Saul was on his way to making a name for himself. He was a well-connected powerful man with credentials. He called himself a “Hebrew of Hebrews.” He was a prideful self-righteous member of the Pharisees who obeyed the Law without fault in the strictest way possible.
Saul grew up in Tarsus of Cilicia where he lived with his Jewish parents. His family had dual citizenship. He was a pure blooded citizen of Israel from the tribe of Benjamin as well as a Roman citizen. His Roman citizenship gave him a position of privilege and would be advantageous for him later.
Saul was highly educated. His early education occurred while living in Tarsus. His formal education took place under the tutelage of Gamaliel while he was living in Jerusalem. It is under the instruction of Gamaliel that Saul prepared and trained to be a Pharisee.
Saul comes into the biblical narrative for the first time in Acts Chapter 7. It all began with the events surrounding the death of Stephen. Stephen was a wise and responsible man full of faith and the Holy Spirit who was chosen to serve on a team of disciples in the church.
Stephen was performing miracles and signs among the people. He spoke with great wisdom and the power of the Spirit. The religious leaders were angered by what he was saying. But none of them could challenge him.
The elders and the teachers of the religious law didn’t like what they were seeing and hearing and they had Stephen arrested. But he continued to preach. His arrest did not deter him.
But then he crossed a line that infuriated the religious leaders.
You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestor’s did, and so do you! (Acts 7:51) Name one prophet your ancestor’s didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. (Acts 7:52)
To top it off Stephen declared that the heavens had opened and he could see the glory of God and Jesus standing at God’s right hand. They had heard enough! They rushed at him and drug him into the city street and began to stone him.
Jesus had said, ”If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.” (John 15:18)
His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.
It is quite possible that while Saul was watching Stephen being stoned to death his feet and garments were being splattered with Stephen’s blood.
(Acts 7:58) Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. (Acts 8:1a)
Saul was a murderer.
He must have forgotten that part of the Law. You must not murder. (Exodus 20:13) Or maybe he thought he was above the Law since he was convinced he was doing God’s work.
A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. (Acts 8:1b)
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” ~Tertullian
Saul was so zealous for God that he persecuted the church.
And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. Acts 22:4
But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison. (Acts 8:3)
Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains. (Acts 9:1-2)
As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. (Acts 9:3)
God was getting ready to interrupt Saul’s plans.
He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?
Saul’s persecution of Christians was about to come to an end. Saul didn’t know it but he had just had his first encounter with the Risen Lord—the Messiah.
Who are you, lord? Saul said.
I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! (Acts 9:6)
A remarkable transformation was about to take place in Saul’s heart and mind. He would be forever changed.
Jesus told Saul to go into the city. His companions led the way into Damascus to a house owned by a man named Judas. He was to stay there until a man named Ananias arrived. He would lay his hands upon Saul and he would regain his sight.
Saul didn’t eat for three days as he waited and prayed.
The faith of a strong believer by the name of Ananias found Saul and laid hands on him as the Lord Jesus had instructed him to do and Saul regained his sight.
After Saul regained his sight, he was baptized, and then he ate some food and regained his strength.
Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, He is indeed the Son of God! (Acts 9:19)
Then [Ananias] told me, The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and hear him speak. For you are his witness, telling everyone what you have seen and heard, What are you waiting for? (Acts 22:16)
So Saul’s name was changed to Paul. He was chosen to bring the Good News to the Gentiles. For all that he caused others to endure he eventually endured himself.
Paul became a true apostle because he experienced and encountered the risen Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus.
And he truly shared in the sufferings of Christ.
Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I? Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, with out enough clothing to keep me warm. (2 Cor.11:22-27)
Except for Jesus Christ, Paul the Apostle is considered and recognized as the most significant influential spiritual figure and contributor to the Christian faith and Christian church. He wrote 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament. Chosen by God to be a vessel to the Gentiles, Paul’s writing and preaching encouraged the early church and taught them how to live a God-centered life in a pagan-centered world.
Paul went on three missionary journeys that carried and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ across the ancient world. Despite the trials and tribulations that Paul endured during his lifetime he accomplished the mission God had sent him to do.
Paul’s writings were also written to address problematic issues that arose in the first century churches that had to be dealt with in order for the churches to survive, thrive, and grow forward for future generations.
One of Paul’s major contributions to Christianity is “justification by faith” also described as “faith alone.” Faith rather than good works became a prominent theme during the time of Martin Luther. So much so that it eventually led to what we know as the formation of the protestant reformation and the break with the Roman Catholic Church. It was Paul’s writings in the book of Romans that fueled and influenced Martin Luther’s thinking, which changed the course of mankind’s spiritual history.
“From his obscure birth in Tarsus of Cicilia, through his remarkable conversion en route to Damascus, and along all those journeys from Antioch of Syria to the very presence of Nero enthroned in Rome, including his brutal martyrdom beside the Ostian Way, the man leaves his mark on all who take the time to pause and ponder. Left in the wake of its significance, you’re unable to remain the same.” ~Chuck Swindoll
Paul was held prisoner in Rome in his last days on earth.
Several sources record that was Paul beheaded during the time of Nero.
He was the last apostle to be martyred.