Last week we identified Paul as a man born in Tarsus, a metropolitan city at the northeast corner of the Mediterranean Sea, at the crossroads of major trade routes.
He was born a Jew, the son of a Pharisee. But he was also a Greek, being raised in the Greek society, and he was also a Roman citizen. He was highly educated and a bright student. He had been trained in Jerusalem under a master teacher.
We also found that he was a little man, apparently frail, and a poor speaker. He knew his success came from God, not from his personal attributes.
He was a zealot in whatever he did. When he was persecuting Christians, he really went after them with a vengeance. After he met Jesus, he was just as zealous as a Christian. He only had one speed, full ahead, man the torpedoes!
Paul the Zealot:
This morning, letís pick him up where Luke introduces him at the end of Acts 7. This is his first appearance in the New Testament, and he first appears as the Jew, Saul. He first appears as a young man, probably around 30.
We first meet him at the stoning of Stephen. Stephen is being attacked by a group of angry Jews, and looks up into Heaven and sees Jesus, and says it out loud. That causes the mob to attack him, and they are in the process of killing Stephen when we pick up the story at Acts 7:57.
And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.
But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.--Acts 7:57 - 8:3.
Not a very glorious start for a great Apostle.
He was already an acknowledged leader of Judaism. He was very active in the opposition to Christianity after the death of Stephen. He continued the cause --
He wanted to hunt down Christians wherever they were. His persecution of the Christians was fanatical, and Paul acknowledges it later in Acts 26:
He was convinced that the Christians were heretics, and that the honor of God demanded their
"I, too, was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to
oppose the name of Jesus of
Nazareth. --Acts 26:9.
Even though he was wrong, he believed in what he was doing.
Saul had no doubt about the correctness of what he was doing. As Christianity spread, he felt the need to spread the geography of his persecution of them. They had to be eradicated before they corrupted the whole world. He was on his way to Damascus, armed with the authority from the High Priest, when a life-changing event took place for him.
He was rudely interrupted just before he got to Damascus. His chain got jerked in a big way. In more than one way, Saul saw the light.
After that event, Paul repeatedly referred to it as the work of Divine grace and power, transforming him and commissioning him as Jesusí messenger. There are three accounts of his conversion in Acts. The first, in Acts 9, is the historical event as recorded by Luke. The other two in chapters 22 and 26 are Paulís retelling the story of his conversion, told slightly differently, depending on the audience and the purpose of retelling it.
Preparation in Arabia:
After he spent several days with the Christians in Damascus, he probably then went off to Arabia to prepare or be prepared for the rest of his life. We canít tell for sure that it was at this time, but most likely his time in the desert was after leaving Damascus. Paul tells us about his desert time:
It is apparently during this time that he formulated his theology. It is unclear how long he was there, but when he came back, he was fired up and ready to go. From that time on, he rarely stopped traveling as a missionary. He would travel to Jerusalem, and then off to new Gentile areas to plant churches. Then return to Jerusalem and again out for a missionary journey. He made a total of three major journeys, not counting the fourth journey to Rome. There was probably a fifth after his imprisonment in Rome, but that is by deduction. We do not have a detailed record of it in the New Testament.
Paul's Missionary Journeys:
Since it is the study of the Book of Ephesians that we are now starting, it is interesting to note that Paul did not go to Ephesus on his first missionary journey.
This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you. But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to see you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while. --Romans 15:22-24.
After leaving Ephesus, he ended up traveling on west and as he came back east, near Ephesus, he did not go into the city, but met with the leaders at a nearby town and then proceeded on to Jerusalem.
Paul had received repeated warnings that it was not safe for him to go to Jerusalem. As he was enroute to Jerusalem, Luke relates:
We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo. Finding the disciples there, we
stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.
Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist. ...
After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.
Coming over to us, he took Paul's belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, "The
Holy Spirit says, 'In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will
hand him over to the Gentiles.'" When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with
Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, "Why are you weeping and breaking my
heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the
Lord Jesus." When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, "The Lord's will be done."
Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist. ... After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul's belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, "The Holy Spirit says, 'In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.'" When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, "Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, "The Lord's will be done." --Acts 21:10-17.
Paul apparently interpreted the warnings as a challenge to his willingness to stand up for Jesus. So he plowed on to Jerusalem.
Paul's Fourth Journey -- The Trip to Rome:
After he got to Jerusalem, the Jews rioted to get him, and the Romans took him into custody. When he convinced the Romans to let him address the Jews, and when he explained the call to the Gentiles, the riot broke out again. The only thing that kept him from being beaten by the Roman soldiers was his assertion that he was a Roman citizen. That punishment could not be dealt out to a Roman citizen without a hearing and being found guilty.
The Romans then sneaked him out of Jerusalem under heavy protective guard and took him to Caesarea for holding until he could be tried. He spent more than two years there, under arrest, but not found guilty of anything. At one point in the hearings, Paul appealed to Caesar, which was his legal right as a Roman citizen. Therefore it was decided that he was not guilty of anything, but since he had appealed to Caesar, he would be shipped to Rome. It was probably the fall of 60 A.D. when he shipped out to Rome. On the way, they were shipwrecked on Malta by a storm. After three months there, they caught another ship and made it to Rome.
The "Prison Letters":
After he got to Rome, he was held under house arrest, but he lived in a rented house and was allowed to have guests. He had many visitors from the churches he had planted.
He was also a successful missionary in Rome. He wrote the "prison letters" during this period. He had plenty of time to meditate and to write, and was not being harassed. The prison letters are: Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians and Philippians. So Ephesians was written while he was under house arrest in Rome, in a house he had rented. He was reflecting on his work and on the new churches he had planted in the Gentile world.
Acts does not tell us how Paulís life ended. We do not know for sure that he was released, but there is a lot of evidence that he was released at the end of two years. The prison letters are written with a tone of expectation that he would be released and would visit those churches.
Other Possible Travels:
The rest of Paul's life can only be built from inferences of the pastoral letters. It appears that in about the spring of 63 A.D., he traveled east from Rome and visited Ephesus again. He apparently left Timothy there and traveled on to Macedonia. In his letter to Timothy he says:
As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer. --1 Timothy 1:3.
In Titus he mentions spending the winter in Nicopolis:
As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there. --Titus 3:12
After that, he may have made it to Spain as planned, perhaps in the autumn of 64 A.D. when the persecution by Nero started. It is clear in the second letter to Timothy that he is again in prison, and this time he is in close confinement, not just house arrest.
May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. --2 Timothy 1:16-17.
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God's word is not chained. --2 Timothy 2:8-9.
In his first court appearance, he escapes a guilty verdict but he gives up any hope of release.
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. --2 Timothy 4:6-8.
The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen. --2 Timothy 4:18.
He knew the end had arrived. He was executed in Rome in late 66 or early 67. Tradition recorded that he was beheaded on the Ostian Way [Road].
Paul is a combination of contrasts:
But most of all, he was committed to Jesus. He saw The Light! -- The one and only light.
We will see what we can learn about the city of Ephesus, the city from which the letter takes its title.
Then we will study how the letter got this title -- the background for the letter.