In our last study, we saw how Jesus chose Saul of Tarsus – the chief persecutor of the followers of Jesus – to take His Message to the gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. Saul – who became known as Paul – learned from Jesus face to face and through many visions and dreams. He was an eyewitness to the resurrected Lord, so what he told others about Jesus is important to know and understand.
The Book of Acts was written by a Gentile (Luke) to a Gentile (Theophilus), so that should be our first clue to what God did during the 1st Century. Acts begins as primarily Jewish in fulfillment, direction and tone, but quickly becomes predominantly non-Jewish. Why is that? In the Gospels, Jesus presents Himself to the people of Israel as their Messiah King. He explains to them how His Kingdom works and what He expects from them. Many of the people like what they see and hear, but many don’t – especially the religious leaders of Israel. That begins a tension that builds until the leaders of Israel demand that Israel’s occupying force (Rome) kill Him. The local leader of the occupying force (Pilate) doesn’t see any reason to kill Jesus, but yields to the will of the people and sends the Lord to the Cross. Jesus dies to save people from the death penalty of their sin – which is the primary reason He came from Heaven to earth – and rises from the dead, teaches His disciples about “the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3) and returns to His Father in Heaven (Acts 1:9).
In Acts, we see the same leaders rejecting Jesus again, even though the Lord proved Himself to them through His Resurrection. Since Israel’s leaders couldn’t kill Jesus again, they opposed His followers (Acts 4-5). That opposition eventually led to the death of Stephen and a great persecution and scattering of most believers in Jerusalem (Acts 7-8). Saul of Tarsus became the point man in the charge against followers of Jesus and was successful in his work. So much so that the high priest of Israel gave Saul letters to the synagogues of Damascus so that if Saul found any who were “of the Way,” he could bring them bound to Jerusalem. However, Jesus had other plans for Saul.
The Book of Acts takes a huge directional turn after Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. Everything becomes transitional – from God working primarily with the Jews – to God working primarily with the Gentiles. The transition begins in Acts 9 with Paul’s conversion and reaches its zenith in Acts 15 when the 12 Jewish Apostles come to an understanding about the changes God instituted in calling Paul to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 15:1-29; Galatians 2:1-10). It’s interesting to note that after Acts 15 almost nothing is said about the ministries of the 12 Jewish Apostles (except when Paul visited the Lord’s half-brother James in Jerusalem – Acts 21:18). From Acts 15:30 to the end of the Book, it’s all about Paul the Apostle and the Gospel to the Gentiles. So, what did Paul preach and teach about the Diety of Jesus Christ?
Paul was part of the teaching team at the first primarily Gentile church at Antioch in Syria. That’s where believers in Christ were first called Christians (Acts 11:26) Paul taught there for about a year and, along with Barnabas, took a special relief gift to the elders in Jerusalem during that time (Acts 11:27-30). Remember what Jesus told Ananias about the ministry of Paul extending to the Gentiles and their kings? That ministry expanded when the Holy Spirit directed the Christians in Antioch to separate Barnabas and Paul “for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:1-2) The leaders fasted and prayed and laid hands on Barnabas and Paul and sent them on their way.
“So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews.” Acts 13:4-5
This is the beginning of Paul’s missionary journeys to preach the Gospel to the Gentile world. Antioch was several miles from the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, so Paul and Barnabas traveled to the port city of Seleucia, boarded a ship and sailed to Cyprus – where Barnabas was born. Salamis was the closest port city to Seleucia, so the ship landed there. That’s where Paul and Barnabas began their missionary preaching. Synagogues would be a favorite beginning point for Paul for several years. Jesus had also appointed Paul to represent Him to the people of Israel, so Paul often visited synagogues when he arrived in a new place. Even though Paul’s ministry would be primarily to the Gentiles, he was a Jew and had a great love for his people.
Remember that the Holy Spirit sent Paul and Barnabas on their mission. That is a supernatural calling because the Holy Spirit is Supernatural. Paul often used the supernatural powers of God during his missionary journeys and we see evidence of that power on Cyprus.
“Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, ‘O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.’ And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord.” Acts 13:6-12
Paphos was on the opposite side of Cyprus from Salamis. That means Paul and Barnabas preached the Word of God in synagogues across the island of Cyprus. One of the notable people to believe Paul’s preaching about Jesus was Sergius Paulus, who was the proconsul of Cyprus. Historical documents of the 1st Century record his full name as Lucius Sergius Paulus. His name has been found on ancient inscriptions from the middle of the 1st Century, which goes to supporting the reliability of Luke’s historical accounts in Acts. Sergius Paulus governed Cyprus for the Roman Empire. He was a Gentile, but had come under the influence of a Jewish sorcerer. Sergius heard about Paul’s preaching and wanted to hear the Word of God. The Jewish sorcerer, most likely not wanting to lose the dark spiritual hold he had on the proconsul, tried to keep Paul from speaking with Sergius. Paul dealt with the opposition directly and powerfully. Sergius witnessed the power of God’s Spirit and believed “being astonished at the teaching of the Lord.”
What was Paul teaching about Jesus at the beginning of his missionary trips? What did he believe about the Deity of Christ? We’ll look at that in more depth in our next study.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
Building Confidence Through Evidence
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”