Reading through Acts the other day, I came across a little phrase that stunned me. It’s when Jesus appears to Paul (Saul) on the road to Damascus, knocks him off his ass (literally) and tells him that He is appearing in order to “rescue you from the Jewish people…”
Here’s the actual passage:
“I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.” – Acts 26:15-18
Honestly, what surprised me was what Jesus did NOT say to Paul. He did not say that He appeared to save Paul from his sins, or to save Paul from Hell. That would not have surprised me, but what DID surprise me was when Jesus says that one of the reasons He appears to Paul is to “save (him) from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles…”
So, this got me thinking: Why did Paul need to be saved from the Jewish people? What was it that he needed saving from exactly?
Well, if you keep reading a little more you’ll see that Paul explains what he did after Jesus spoke to him, he says:
“So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance. For this reason, some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death.” – Acts 26:19-21
Paul needed to be rescued from his own people. Why? Because the Jewish people were blind. They were in darkness. Even – and maybe even especially – those who were Pharisees like Paul needed to realize their blindness and “to open their eyes so that they (could) turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God.”
That’s heavy stuff.
Those Pharisees didn’t listen to the Messiah. They killed him. Then they refused to listen to His disciples. They were arrested, beaten and warned not to speak in His name.
Maybe, just maybe, they would listen to one of their own?
But first, Paul needed to be saved from the Jewish people. They had such a grip on his heart and mind. Jesus had to break that hold over Paul first, and then his eyes would be opened to see that actually, he had been under the Dominion of Satan all along.
I’m sure that was a huge surprise to Paul. Rather than doing the will of God, he was actually an agent of the Devil, persecuting those who followed the Messiah and helping to put them to death in the name of his religion.
This is why he needed to be saved from the Jewish people. They were deluded into thinking they were following God, but in actuality, they were following Satan.
God’s great love for his children – both the Jews and the Gentiles – was manifested in Paul’s vision of Jesus standing before him and blocking his path. “You’re going the wrong way,” Jesus says to Paul. “Your people have blinded you. I’m saving you from all of that religion and I’m giving you an opportunity to see the truth. This is so that you can help others see the truth, too.”
How did the Jewish people receive Paul’s message? He says “some Jews seized me in the Temple and tried to put me to death.” [v.21]
And why? Partly because they were still blinded and under the Dominion of Satan, but also partly because Paul was preaching something so scandalous and controversial: The idea that Gentiles and Jews were included, together, in the family of God.
Notice that Paul says he preached this same message “both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance” and that it was “for this reason the Jews seized (Paul) in the Temple and tried to put (him) to death.” [v. 19-21]
They had this same reaction when Jesus tried to suggest that God’s great Kingdom of Love was available not only to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles:
“But I [Jesus] say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff.” – Luke 4:25-29
This is why Paul calls this the “Mystery of Christ” that no one knew. The Mystery hidden from the beginning of the world is that God has always loved the entire World and has always intended for everyone to share in the treasures of His Kingdom:
“This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” – Ephesians 3:6
What a glorious revelation! This is why Jesus had to save Paul from his own people, and from the Gentiles, so that the Jews and the Gentiles together could realize their blindness and together become one “new man” in Christ!
Some people today want to divide up what God has joined together, but Jesus is clear when he says ” For God so loved the World” and Paul affirms this when he declares that “now, in the Church, there is no longer any Jew or Gentile…but all are one in Christ Jesus.” (See Gal. 3:28)
Note: Paul doesn’t say that there are now both Jews and Gentiles. He says that now there is neither Jew nor Gentile. Why? Because they have now become one in Christ, Jesus our Lord.
The Jews were about division. The Gentiles were, too. Jesus is about reconciliation. He wants to bring everyone together into the Family of God. Where we draw lines of separation, Jesus’ erases those lines. Where we seek to identify ourselves as “better than” others, Jesus calls us to “consider others better than ourselves.”
Sometimes I wonder if there are even Christians today who need to be saved from their own people so that they can realize how blind they are to the Gospel of Peace and the Mystery of Christ that has now been revealed for those who have eyes to see.
God’s love and mercy are for everyone, not just for us.
What do you think?
Keith Giles is the author of several books, including “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb.” He is also the co-host of “The Heretic Happy Hour” podcast which is available on iTunes and Podbean. He lives in Orange, California with his wife and two sons.