Ephesians Study Part 2: Paul the Zealot


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.

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 extermination.

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.

Paul's Conversion:

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 a little like Jesus' going out to the desert to be tempted. It seems probable that God directed Paul to go out into the desert and to spend time with him.

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.

  1. The first journey apparently started in the spring of 48 A.D. After this trip, he returned to Jerusalem because the new influx of Gentile Christians was creating an uproar in the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. They took the position that every Christian had to be circumcised. After getting that calmed down and ruled out, Paul returned to Antioch, the church that had sent him out on that first journey.
  2. It was on his second trip that Paul first stopped at Ephesus. Next week we will spend some time learning about Ephesus. The locals there tried to get him to stay a while, but he declined and completed his journey, again going back to Jerusalem, then back to Antioch, his home base.
  3. On the third trip, Paul stayed in Ephesus nearly three years, the longest time he ever stayed at any of the new churches he planted. He was finally forced out of town by a riot based on the financial consequences of his teaching. His teaching was hurting the business of the silversmiths who made a living making silver idols.  While there he took up a collection for the Christians back in Jerusalem.  He intended to deliver it and then travel on to Rome and to Spain. He wrote to his friends in the church at Rome:

    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:

    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:

In Titus he mentions spending the winter in Nicopolis:

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.

In his first court appearance, he escapes a guilty verdict but he gives up any hope of release.

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's Character:

Paul is a combination of contrasts:

But most of all, he was committed to Jesus. He saw The Light! -- The one and only light.


Next week:

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.