And there was Saul (standing there), endorsing this execution. And from that day a great persecution arose against the (membership of the) community (that would assemble) in Jerusalem; and (that is how) they all (came to be) scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria, except, (as has been pointed out), the apostles. Respectful men attended to Stephen's burial, as great lamentation was made over him. But Saul was intent on breaking the (faith) community (completely), going (systematically) into house after house, dragging off both men and women and having them committed to prison. (Acts 8:1-3/transliteration by Bruce C Wearne)

 

PERSECUTOR:The early part of chapter eight talks about the determination of Saul, who became Paul (a statue of whom is above) to wipe out the followers of Jesus Christ. PICTURE: Frank O'Connor/www.freeimages.com


IN A NUTSHELL

Luke tells us the aftermath of Stephen's trial. Gamaliel's own student was going to ensure this movement's quick death.

Saul, Luke tells us, was also giving his endorsement to Stephen's execution. He was the public officer ensuring it complied with lawful requirements. His was a supervisory role ensuring that God's law was not violated by the way in which the execution was carried out.

I suppose it is possible that a person in this position can carry out the job without agreeing with the judgment that had been handed down. But Luke tells us that Saul, in his official capacity, was indeed in agreement, and very much so. Luke tells us explicitly that Saul wanted Stephen and evidence of Stephen's words and works completely wiped out. The teaching for which Stephen had been condemned must be laid to rest. Luke says that this all happened a short while before the first big persecution took off with Saul as its principal enforcer.


Notice how Luke tells us this. We now see Gamaliel's advice working its way to the surface. Remember Luke telling us how Gamaliel asked for the apostles to be put outside the council? Now it seems that Luke told us about that event to explain the council's "leniency" to the apostles. Something else, something deeply sinister was at work in this policy. Now, systematic persecution was under way. But as we will see, the "ongoing work" of Jesus, now directed from God's right hand, saw the Holy Spirit working in the lives of the disciples, and thus was subverting the impact of the persecution for generations to come.


Luke tells the story to those who already know something about the extraordinary life of this person named Saul. The narrative itself takes up from where Stephen left off at the conclusion of his trial. Luke gives yet another example of God's intervention in the lives of stubborn people. An extra entry is being inscribed in that list of special times when God undermined His own people's rejection of Him.

And there is more. Right in the midst of the evil that brought on the execution of Stephen - and a great persecution that had many fleeing Jerusalem, we hear how God was busy, as a new chapter begins. The story continues with Saul, the rampaging Pharisee, becoming Paul the peaceable follower of Jesus of Nazareth. The apostate becomes the apostle, God's own tireless postman. This tells us of God's plans being worked out in the lives of men and women, boys and girls, despite the fact that they might be determined to go their own way. It is as if Luke is saying: 'and God said: Oh no, you don't!' Thank God He still says that!

Got a verse or a short passage you'd like us to look at? Just send an email to [email protected].