“Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1, CSB).
These words were surely the result of clarity of understanding of how Paul’s life and apostolic mission would provide living patterns for Christians throughout the Gospel Age. Just like Jesus, the Apostle Paul was to teach with his actions as well as with his words.
The last six chapters of The Acts of the Apostles provide a rich narrative of Paul’s capture and trial by the Jews in Jerusalem. It continues with his being passed on to Roman custody and eventually his travel to Rome to be tried in Caesar’s court. It is unlikely that Paul was surprised by any of these events. After all, he was shown what great things he must suffer for the Lord’s name in order to be a witness of Jesus to the Gentiles, to kings, and to Israel (Acts 9:15-16). Perhaps, like Jesus, Paul set his face to go to Jerusalem and then to be taken to Rome, knowing that his time was come (Luke 9:51, Acts 21:11-14).
Paul Came to His Own, Too (John 1:11)
Acts 22 finds Paul witnessing to a Jewish mob that dragged him out of the Temple and who would have killed him if not for the swift intervention of a Roman guard. As in Jesus’ case, the Hebrew leaders wanted to kill Paul because of his apparent disregard for Jewish tradition, his new understanding of the written word, and his kindness to the Gentiles. After his capture, but before entering prison, he used the relative safety provided by Roman soldiers to preach the message to those who nearly killed him just minutes earlier. The sight of Paul taking advantage of the unfolding of this event must have been simply amazing to behold.
Paul reflected our Lord’s character, as he addressed the crowd with empathy. He called them “brothers and fathers” (Acts 22:1 CSB). He even publicly confessed that he was once part of an enraged mob who persecuted The Way, and even took part in the killing of Stephen (Acts 22:19, 20, James 5:16). He provided his credentials as a Pharisee and mentioned Gamaliel’s name, a very respected teacher of the law at the time. These credentials “bought” him enough time to share his own amazing story of redemption and his personal relationship with the Lord. Just like Jesus, he preached to the house of Israel wholeheartedly, even as he knew he would be rejected (Acts 22:18).
Sent to the House of Israel, Too (Matthew 23:37)
The crowd erupted with displeasure when Paul described how God sent him to preach to the Gentiles. The blindness and hardness of their hearts prevented them from believing that God also loved the rest of mankind, the object of the Abrahamic Promise (Romans 11:25). Somehow, over time, the Jews arrived at a point in their faith where worshiping the physical temple became more important than worshipping the presence of Him who sanctified it.
However, while Jesus’ mission was to carry the sins of Israel and of the world like a lamb to slaughter, Paul was protected for a time. Not a hair on his head would be lost while he was needed for the work (Luke 21:14-19). Starting in Acts 22:26, Paul found himself under Roman protection due to his higher, Roman
citizenship. What the Israelites saw as state-run oppression and occupation by the Roman Empire, now became the very context that allowed Paul to fulfill his mission and preach his message, not only to the Jews, but also to Kings and to the Gentiles. Just like Jesus, Paul was able to serve the will of God by allowing those in authority to control his physical liberty.
Paul Offered to Open Their Eyes, Too (Revelation 3:18)
Chapter 23 starts with Paul being brought in front of the Sanhedrin. Once again, they rejected the gospel message, thus fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy of his suffering (Acts 9:16). Ananias, the High Priest, ordered that Paul be beaten over his mouth because of his words. Earlier, it was another Ananias who opened Paul’s eyes by trusting the Lord’s direction and casting aside his earthly fears. That first Ananias was a poignant example of how Jesus’ true followers submit to his will to open the understanding of others. Perhaps the last example illustrates how institutionalized religion ignores the Divine will, trying to stop the message of hope.
Just like Jesus (John 18:23), Paul questioned the validity of the smiting under Mosaic law. He also cast a final judgment on the religious establishment of his day by calling its chief representative a “whitewashed wall” (Acts 23:3 CSB), reminiscent of when Jesus called the religious elite “whitewashed sepulchers” (Matthew 23:27 CSB). Also, like Jesus, Paul immediately stopped the attack on the High Priest when he learned of his identity. He knew that the ministry of Jesus was to fulfill the law, not to destroy it (Matthew 5:17, Acts 23:5). Instead, the Apostle focused on the core of his message for the remainder of his mission: the hope for the resurrection of the dead through Jesus Christ (Acts 23:6, 24:15, 25:19, 26:8).
Immediately after this event, the Lord encouraged Paul to fulfill his witness to kings and Gentiles. “The following night, the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Have courage! For as you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so it is necessary for you to testify in Rome’” (Acts 23:11, CSB).
After the Sanhedrin failed to bring an accusation against Paul, more than 40 Jewish enemies bound themselves with a curse to neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. As in Jesus’ case, the accusers were to bring the same curse upon themselves (Matthew 27:24, 25).
The number 40 is a special number in the Scriptures. It is often connected to God’s protection in hard times. The forties appear in the lives of Moses, Elijah, David, Solomon, and especially, the 40 days our Lord spent in the wilderness after his baptism. Perhaps the men who wanted to kill Paul demonstrated how those who resist God are tempted to go beyond God’s grace and actually bring destruction upon themselves by disobeying both the spirit and the letter of the written word.
After the evil plot against Paul was revealed, he was moved to Caesarea (Acts 23:12-35). While Jesus was judged and condemned in a set of elaborate and orchestrated events during the night, Paul was saved in an equally elaborate chain of events. Indeed, these events were emblematic of the night of the Jewish Age just as it had become the dawn of the Gospel Age.
Paul Went Where Jesus Sent Him (Acts 1:8)
Caesarea was built by the Romans, and it was the capital of Palestine. It quickly became the center of Roman administrative power over Israel. The “axe” was already at the root of the trees (Matthew 3:10). This signified the passing of God’s favor from the Jews to the Gentiles. Caesarea was also the site of Cornelius’ baptism, the first Gentile believer (Acts 10:1). It is no surprise that the Jewish religious leaders lacked any authority in this city. The High Priest was forced to make the trip from Jerusalem to Caesarea and then cast his accusations through an interpreter, just as any common man (Acts 24:1). His flattery and accusations fell on deaf ears with Felix, the Roman governor.
Over the next two years, the relentlessness of the chief priests and Jewish leaders continued to provide Paul with renewed opportunities to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of the dead in Caesarea. New rulers precipitated a new trial, as in the case of Governor Festus, King Agrippa, and his sister,
Bernice (Acts 25:1-3). Ironically, the Roman trial format and procedures forced the Jewish leaders to repeatedly listen quietly to Paul’s testimony over and over.
Just like Jesus, Paul was unanimously declared to be innocent by the Roman authority in an obvious rebuke to the chief priests and Jewish leaders (Acts 26:30-32). This rebuke was likely a “stink” in the nose of the chief priests and it surely damaged their influence among the people. By the time Paul arrived in Rome, the Jewish leaders had given up their attempts to discredit the Apostle Paul (Acts 28:21).
Chapters 27 and 28 describe Paul’s trip to Rome in significant detail. Careful students of the Bible have drawn wonderful prophetic parallels of this trip with the end of the Gospel Age.1 Our focus here is on Paul’s behavior, which is a template worthy of our imitation at this end of the Gospel Age.
Paul Gave Up His Own Liberty, Too (John 8:32)
Paul was given the option to be freed by King Agrippa, but he submitted himself to the will of the Lord, so he appealed to Rome. While sailing to Rome, the ship encountered storms sure to destroy it. Only our Lord has authority over the elements, so the Apostle imitated his Lord and master Jesus Christ by offering hope in God’s salvation to all 276 souls while in the midst of the storm. All of them were saved even though the ship was lost. Paul faithfully taught from God’s word and brought light in a time of darkness. He comforted the brokenhearted on the ship and pointed them to the one source of salvation. All the ship’s passengers survived, even the prisoners who shared the chains with the Apostle Paul.
(1) Ray Luke — The Herald, “Acts 27, And You Are In It,” May/June 2008
Carl Hagensick — The Herald, “Paul’s Perilous Journey,” May/June 2008
David Rice — The Herald, “Paul’s Voyage to Rome,” January/February 2018
David Rice — The Herald, “A Distressing Storm,” January/February 2019
Paul Gave Them Peace, Too (John 16:33)
Once the group reached land, Paul was bitten by a poisonous viper, yet he suffered no ill effects. This is a reminder of the salvation that is provided for those who look upon Jesus (Numbers 21:9). As Jesus will someday crush the serpent’s head, Paul easily shook off this serpent into the fire.
From this point forward, Paul performed miracle after miracle, healing all who came to him in a wonderful imitation of our Lord’s work during his ministry. By the time Paul arrived in Rome, he had been a blessing to all around him, even his captors. While in Rome, he used his freedom and Christian maturity as he “welcomed all who visited him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” to both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 28:30-31 CSB).
Just like Jesus, Paul learned obedience by the things that he suffered. He clearly understood the mission that God gave him, and found his calling a distinct pleasure. It was the joy set before him (of the Lord) (Hebrews 12:1, 2). Paul showed great compassion to his fellow men, even to his captors. He healed them,
comforted them, and saved their lives. He redirected all the praise towards God and Jesus. Indeed, let us imitate Paul, just as he imitated Christ.
Categories: 2021 Issues, 2021-May/June