From Acts to the Epistles
Arlen L. Chitwood
Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest
and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven.
Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (Acts 9:1-5)
Saul, later called Paul, is introduced in Scripture at the same time Stephen was cast out of the city and stoned by the council. Stephen had laid out before the council, from their own Scriptures, exactly what had happened, was happening, and was about to happen. And this was something that couldn’t be denied, for Stephen had simply called their attention to exactly what God had to say about the matter, exactly as God had revealed it. Then, closing his discourse, Stephen provoked the Jewish religious leaders to the point of forcing them to see what had been done, based on revelation from their own Scriptures (Acts 7:51-58).
Because of that which the Jewish religious leaders had just heard, Stephen, in his closing remarks, forced the issue after such a fashion that they were left with two choices: these religious leaders could either (1) acknowledge that which they had done, or (2) they could do away with the one who had called this to their attention. They could either acknowledge being “the betrayers and murderers” of “the Just One” and repent of their act (subsequently resulting in the entire nation repenting), or they could do away with Stephen.
And even though Stephen’s message moved the very Godhead in heaven to react after a fashion that anticipated the possibility that Israel would repent — the heavens being opened, with the Glory visible and Jesus seen standing at God’s right hand — God, in His omniscience, knew exactly what these Jewish religious leaders would do. He knew that they would reject the message and slay Stephen. And He had a particular man ready, standing by — a man introduced at this point in Scripture for reasons known only to God at that time.
Those in the council laid their clothes down “at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen . . .” Saul was “consenting” to Stephen’s death, and he was “guarding the clothes” of those who slew Stephen (Acts 7:58-8:1; 22:20).
And not only was Saul introduced at this point in the book, but attention was immediately called to his actions. He was the great persecutor of the early Church. He “made havoc of the Church.” He entered into homes (the Church met in homes in those days) and dragged Christians away, having them imprisoned and beaten. Saul was at the center of the “great persecution” arising against the Church at the time of Stephen’s death (Acts 8:1-3; 22:19).
But God had other plans for Saul. This was the man who, himself, would shortly be converted and subsequently experience a lifetime of sufferings for Christ’s sake (Acts 9:16). This was the man who, following his conversion, would give himself wholly over to Christ, as, prior to his conversion, he, unknowingly, had given himself wholly over to the cause of destroying the work of Christ on earth. And, accordingly, this was the man through whom God would make known the mystery, the man God had chosen to carry the message rejected by Israel to the Gentiles, and the man God had chosen to pen most of the New Testament epistles.
This is why attention in the book of Acts, shortly following his introduction, shifts to Saul. He is introduced at the end of chapter seven, his activities are outlined at the beginning of chapter eight, his conversion is recorded at the beginning of chapter nine, and by the time of the events recorded in chapter thirteen he occupies the central place among Christians within God’s plans and purposes as they unfold throughout the remainder of the book.
Events surrounding the termination of Stephen’s message present one of the most interesting pictures in all of Scripture. On the one hand, the heavens were opened, with the Glory visible and Jesus seen standing at His Father’s right hand, awaiting the Jewish religious leaders’ reaction to the message. And, on the other hand, Saul was standing by, for God already knew how these religious leaders would react.
(Since God already knew how these religious leaders would react, some may be inclined to wonder why God would open the heavens and reveal His Glory and His Son after this fashion, intimating the possibility of something occurring that God already knew couldn’t occur. And, beyond that, God already had Saul standing by to be introduced at the time of Israel’s climactic rejection, with a view to the progression of events throughout the remainder of the dispensation going in a completely different direction, though the re-offer of the kingdom continued to remain open to Israel.
The outworking of God’s plans and purposes in the preceding respect can best be understood in the light of the overall offer of the kingdom of the heavens to Israel. Preceding Calvary there was an offer of the kingdom, and following Calvary there was a re-offer of the kingdom. And the nation couldn’t possibly have accepted the offer at either time, which God, in His omniscience, knew beforehand.
But, even though Israel couldn’t possibly have accepted the offer in either instance, a bona fide offer was made in both instances. And even following Stephen’s death the same bona fide offer remained open throughout the time covered by the remainder of the book, though things within God’s plans and purposes were then moving in an entirely different direction.
Thus, when the heavens were opened at the termination of Stephen’s message — with the Glory visible and Jesus seen standing — there was a bona fide movement within the Godhead in heaven relative to the possibility of Israel repenting. Such a movement was in complete keeping with the way things had been done during the original offer and during the re-offer of the kingdom. And this was done [as other things had been done before] even though God knew [as at any time before] that the nation wouldn’t repent.
This is simply the manner in which God is seen revealing Himself in Scripture. And God even revealed Himself through Paul after this fashion very near the end of that period during which the re-offer of the kingdom remained open to Israel. When Paul wrote Romans [about 60 A.D.], he said, “For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” [9:3]. Paul’s desire to see Israel repent was so great that he was willing for himself to be separated from Christ and His Glory if such could bring this to pass.
Even though things were going in a completely different direction at this time, with the door for Israel about to be closed, God had still left the door open to this degree. Paul and others, ministering out in the Gentile world, were still, in accord with Romans 1:16, going “to the Jew first” in every city where their ministry carried them. This was in complete keeping with God’s plans and purposes, though this was also with a view to something that couldn’t happen. And, even though it couldn’t happen, they ministered after a fashion expecting that it could, and possibly would, happen.
Again, this is simply the manner in which God is seen revealing Himself in Scripture. And it is not so much for man in his finite wisdom to understand as it is for man in his finite wisdom to believe.)
Paul — A Type
The conversion and subsequent ministry of Paul forms a dual type. One facet of the type is revealed at the outset of God’s dealings with Paul in the book of Acts, and the other facet of the type is revealed toward the end of Paul’s ministry in his first letter to Timothy (Acts 9:1ff; 1 Timothy 1:15, 16).
The first type reflects back on Stephen’s message, setting Paul forth as a type within the framework of that which Stephen had called attention to through drawing from several different types; and the second type reflects back on Paul’s ministry, setting Paul forth as a type within the framework of his calling.
And only an omniscient God — One able to see the future as well as He could see the past and present — could take a man such as Paul and, from his experiences and actions, establish a dual type of this nature.
But this is only a very minute part of the typical structure of Scripture. God, throughout His Word, beginning with Adam, has taken individuals, and, within the framework of His omniscience and sovereignty, has brought things to pass within their lives after such a fashion that He could later use these things to teach His people great spiritual truths. And the experiences of these individuals, forming types, must present teachings which are completely harmonious, one with the other.
The Word of God, in this respect, has been structured after an intricate, detailed fashion which defies all human understanding. It is spiritual in its structure, given by the infinite God, through the Spirit, and totally beyond finite, human comprehension; and it must be interpreted by the Spirit Who gave it, as He takes spiritual things one place and compares them with spiritual things at another place.
Anyone, saved or unsaved, can see the “letter” of Scripture. But only a saved person who allows the indwelling Holy Spirit to lead him “into all truth” can possess the type of spiritual perception that will allow him to move from the “letter” to the “spirit” of the Word, correctly viewing that which is spiritual.
Scripture must be compared with Scripture, under the leadership of the Spirit of God. The Spirit, Who gave the Word, must be allowed to open this Word to a Christian’s understanding through “comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (cf. John 16:13-15; 1 Corinthians 2:9-3:2).
And one form of the spiritual manner in which the Word has been given can be seen in Paul’s conversion and subsequent ministry. Paul’s conversion followed Stephen extensively dealing with various types (forming one overall type) from the Old Testament, in relation to the message concerning the kingdom and Israel; and Paul’s conversion preceded that which God was about to do within His plans and purposes, in relation to the message concerning the kingdom and the Gentiles.
And, in keeping with the timing and reason for Paul’s conversion, God, as He brought matters to pass, did two things: (1) He, through Paul’s conversion, formed one type by reflecting back on that which Stephen had brought out in his message; and (2) He, through Paul’s calling, would form another type by reflecting on things that were about to occur within the framework of His plans and purposes. The first type was in relation to Israel, and the second would be in relation to Christians.
1. In Relation to Israel
Stephen, during the course of his message, began with God’s promise to Abraham and ended with God’s fulfillment of this promise during Solomon’s day (though the complete fulfillment is seen, not in the type through activities brought to pass in Solomon’s day, but in the antitype through activities that will be brought to pass in that coming day following Christ’s return). But Stephen also dealt with other types lying between these two points in his complete message, types that carry a person to the same goal, to the Messianic Kingdom. He dealt extensively with the experiences of Joseph; and then he also dealt extensively with the experiences of Moses, leading into those of his successor, Joshua.
That which had just occurred in Israel — the rejection of Israel’s Messiah — was set forth in the experiences of both Joseph and Moses. And that set forth in the experiences of Solomon, concluding Stephen’s message, was also previously set forth in additional experiences of both Joseph and Moses — experiences following the time of their acceptance by their brethren (concluded, in Moses’ case, with the experiences of his successor, Joshua).
Then when God began to deal with Paul, He set forth these same concluding truths again within the framework of Paul’s conversion. God, through Paul’s conversion, set forth once again a type of Israel’s future conversion. Even though Israel had rejected that which had been set forth several different ways in Stephen’s message (blessings to follow the rejection and sufferings, associated with Israel’s future conversion), God set the matter forth once again in the person through whom He was now about to deal because of Israel’s rejection.
God, because of Israel’s rejection, turned to Paul, the man whom He had chosen to carry the message surrounding the kingdom to the Gentiles. But in Paul’s very conversion, God showed the end of that to which Stephen had referred, though an entire dispensation lasting roughly 2,000 years would elapse before these things could occur. In the very conversion of the man whom God had chosen as the apostle to the Gentiles (with a view to Israel being set aside for the remainder of the dispensation), God showed the end of the matter in relation to Israel. God showed exactly what would happen to Israel at the end of the present dispensation, exactly as Stephen had shown the Jewish council, exactly as the Old Testament prophets had foretold.
Paul was saved through Christ’s personal appearance, through Christ personally revealing Himself to him. This same type was previously seen through both Joseph revealing himself to his brethren a second time (Genesis 45:1ff) and Moses revealing himself to his brethren a second time (Exodus 4:19ff). And all three types point to that coming day when Christ will reveal Himself to His brethren a second time (Zechariah 12:10-14; 13:6-9; Revelation 1:7).
Paul, in the type, was saved as the apostle to the Gentiles, the one who would carry the message concerning the King and His kingdom to all the Gentile nations. And, in the antitype, this is exactly what will occur following Israel’s national conversion. Israel, in accord with the nation’s calling, will carry God’s message to all the Gentile nations.
The Jewish people will carry the identical message that Joseph’s brothers carried in the type, following Joseph’s revelation to them — “Joseph is yet alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:26). Carried over into the antitype that would read, “Jesus is yet alive, and He is Governor over all the earth.”
And they will carry the identical message that Moses’ brethren were to carry following his second appearance to them. Once they had been established in the land, within a theocracy, they, in fulfillment of their calling (Isaiah 43:1-10), were to carry God’s message to the Gentile nations of the earth.
Exactly when will all this occur? God revealed once again, immediately following Paul’s conversion, the answer. It will occur after two days, on the third day (Acts 9:9).
(The exact wording of Acts 9:9 states that Paul was without sight for “three days.” But note the exact wording of several other related texts. Jonah was in the belly of the fish “three days and three nights,” as Christ was in “the heart of the earth” this same length of time [Jonah 1:17; Matthew 12:40]. Christ though, as Israel will be yet future, was raised “on the third day” [Matthew 16:21; 17:22, 23; 20:17-19; Luke 24:21, 46], which means that Jonah [a type of both Christ and Israel] had to also be raised on the third day.
Both Hosea in the Old Testament and John in the New reveal that Israel’s blindness will be lifted [synonymous with Israel, as Jonah, being removed from the place of death] after two days, on the third day [Hosea 5:15-6:2; John 11:6, 7, 43, 44; cf. Romans 11:25, 26; 2 Corinthians 3:14-16].
Thus, when dealing with Paul as a type, the same thing must be said relative to the length of time Paul remained blind, with his sight then being restored. As a type of Israel, he was blind for three days, with his sight then being restored [Jonah 1:17]; but also, as a type of Israel, it was after two days, on the third day that his sight was restored [Hosea 5:15-6:2].
Viewing “three days” and “on the third day” as synonymous after this fashion is in complete keeping with the way God has established matters in the Old Testament and carried them over into the New [cf. Genesis 40:13, 20; 1 Samuel 30:12, 13; 2 Chronicles 10:5, 12; Esther 4:16; 5:1; Jonah 1:17; Matthew 12:40]. Only through reckoning time within a given sequence of days, as God has established time, can statements that Christ was raised “on the third day” be reconciled with statements that He was raised “after three days” [cf. Matthew 27:63; Mark 8:31; Luke 24:7, 21, 46; 1 Corinthians 15:4]. And the same statements are seen in Scripture relative to Israel’s future restoration as well.)
Then note one additional thing about Paul’s conversion. Paul’s immersion in and filling with the Spirit, following his conversion, was connected with Joel’s prophecy and its fulfillment. Immediately following the time that his sight was restored — after two days, on the third day — Paul was “filled with the Holy Spirit”; and he then “arose, and was baptized” (Acts 9:17, 18).
The word used for “fill” — being filled with the Spirit — in verse seventeen is pimplemi. And this is the same word that the Spirit had previously used in chapter two relative to the disciples being filled with the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, resulting in a beginning fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy at the time that the message surrounding the re-offer of the kingdom began to be proclaimed to Israel.
(Ref. Chapter 1, “Continuing from the Gospels,” for a discussion of the Greek words pimplemi and pleroo in relation to Joel’s prophecy and Christians today.)
In effect, through using pimplemi relative to the work of the Spirit at the time of Paul’s conversion, God showed two things: (1) the offer of the kingdom still remained open to Israel, with Joel’s prophecy still continuing to be fulfilled; and (2) Joel’s prophecy (though not being fulfilled today, for God is not presently dealing with Israel) will be fulfilled in its completeness at the time of the fulfillment, in the antitype, of Paul’s conversion — at the time of Israel’s future conversion, following the two days of the present dispensation, on the third day.
2. In Relation to Christians
The additional type that God established through Paul’s experiences had to do with God’s longsuffering in His dealings with Paul, mainly in relation to the manner in which God dealt with Paul following his conversion experience in Acts chapter nine. This type, in connection with God’s longsuffering, had to do with Paul’s calling as the apostle to the Gentiles. And, within this calling, it had to do with the manner in which Paul conducted his life (because of that which he knew lay out ahead), the resultant sufferings that he endured, and the resultant glory that would follow.
This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.
(1 Timothy 1:15, 16)
God established within the person of Paul a “pattern [Greek: hupotuposis, referring to ‘an original type,’ ‘a prototype’]. And God, in the person of His Son, had been longsuffering toward Paul, establishing this prototype.
Though God had been longsuffering toward Paul in his pre-conversion days (as Paul went about seeking to destroy the work of Christ on earth), the text centers on God’s longsuffering relative to Paul in his post-conversion days. That is, the prototype established in the person of Paul has to do with both, but the text and context center more specifically on the latter. And through His longsuffering in this respect, God established an original type that the Spirit could later use to teach Christians “the deep things of God” surrounding their calling (1 Corinthians 2:10).
In the verses immediately preceding this section in 1 Timothy chapter one, Paul referred to “the glorious gospel [lit., ‘the gospel of the glory’] of the blessed God,” which had been “committed” to his trust. And Paul then expressed thanks unto the Lord for empowering him, counting him faithful, and calling him into the ministry, though he had previously been “a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious [injurious with respect to ‘violence’].” But the grace that God had showed toward Paul “was exceedingly abundant,” looking completely beyond what man had done or was able to do to that which God was not only able to do but would do (vv. 11-14).
Then, in the verses immediately following this section in 1 Timothy chapter one, Paul first referred to “the King eternal . . .” to Whom “be honor and glory forever and ever.” Then he charged Timothy concerning the spiritual warfare and the necessity of believing and being spiritually aware of the issue at hand, which was in complete keeping with that which the Spirit of God had previously revealed through the prophets. And Paul’s charge in this respect was with a view to the faith — “which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck” (vv. 17-20).
The whole of the matter in 1 Timothy 1:11-20 involves Paul set forth as a pattern, an original type, a prototype, of how individuals, after they have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, can govern their lives in order to one day come into a realization of the hope of their calling. It has to do with Paul set forth as the pattern that Christians can follow if they, as Paul, would one day realize the purpose for their salvation.
Paul was a driven man. He, on the basis of that which had been revealed to him, looked out ahead and saw a goal; and he was completely, totally obsessed with reaching this revealed goal. Attaining to this goal governed everything brought to pass in the course of his ministry.
Paul had been commissioned as the apostle to the Gentiles to carry the gospel of the glory of Christ to Christians throughout the Gentile world. And his thoughts were centered completely in this realm, in the realm of his calling. And though Paul, during the course of his ministry, often dealt with the unsaved and had to begin with the simple gospel of the grace of God (e.g., Acts 16:30, 31; 20:24; 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4; cf. 1 Corinthians 2:2), this was not the central focus of his ministry. Rather, the central focus of Paul’s ministry — that to which he had been called — had to do with the gospel of the glory of Christ (as seen in 1 Timothy 1:11-20, along with numerous other places throughout his epistles).
This was the realm upon which his every thought was constantly focused. This was the realm upon which his entire ministry centered. Paul looked out toward that coming day when Christ would ascend the throne; and, knowing that the very purpose for his salvation had to do with ascending the throne with Christ in that coming day, Paul did two things: (1) Paul governed his own life accordingly, and (2) he sought to instruct and exhort other Christians to govern their lives after the same fashion, for the same reason (cf. Ephesians 1:15-18; Philippians 3:7-21; Colossians 1:23-29).
And God set Paul forth as a pattern, an original type, a prototype, in this respect (cf. Philippians 3:17-19; 2 Timothy 1:13). His life, because he had given himself wholly over to Christ and the Spirit’s leadership, was one of suffering, rejection, physical and spiritual abuse, imprisonment . . . (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). But it was also one of corresponding involvement with his “deep concern for all the churches” (v. 28) and one wherein he could say toward the end of his journey:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
(2 Timothy 4:7, 8)
God, in the person of Paul, has set forth His example, His prototype. Paul’s life was given over entirely to fulfilling that to which he had been called. The personal cost, in his eyes, was immaterial. He took exactly the same attitude toward sufferings in his ministry that Christ had taken toward sufferings at Calvary (Hebrews 12:2).
Achieving the goal would be worth any sufferings or persecution that he would have to endure. And his interest, far from being in himself alone, was equally, if not more so, in seeing that Christians within the scope of his ministry achieved this same goal as well (cf. Acts 20:25-32).
Paul — the Apostle to the Gentiles
Paul was saved to carry the message that Israel had rejected to Christians throughout the Gentile world (though there were no Christians in the Gentile world at that time). The message had gone to the Samaritans at the time of the dispersion following Stephen’s death (Acts 8:5), but this message was carried to the Gentiles only following Paul’s conversion.
Those in the household of Cornelius were the first Gentiles to hear the message, though this message came from Peter’s lips rather than from Paul’s (Acts 10:34-48). But Peter, within the next three chapters of the book (chapters 11-13), would gradually be replaced by Paul as the central person through whom God would carry out His plans and purposes in the early Church. “The gospel of the circumcision” had been committed to Peter; but now Paul had been called forth to carry the gospel to the “uncircumcised” (Galatians 2:7; cf. Acts 9:15; 26:13-20; Romans 11:13). Thus, there is a transition in central personages, from Peter to Paul, at this point in the book.
(It is often taught that the eunuch from Ethiopia in Acts chapter eight was a Gentile from that part of the world. However, this cannot be correct, for the message was not carried beyond Samaria, to the Gentiles, until later [in chapter 10].
The eunuch in chapter eight, to whom Philip proclaimed truths concerning Christ from Isaiah chapter fifty-three, could only have been a Jew living in Ethiopia who had been to Jerusalem to worship [as those Jews from “every nation under heaven” on the day of Pentecost in chapter two of the book].)
1. Because of Israel’s Rejection
In the original offer of the kingdom of the heavens to Israel in the gospel accounts there was a climactic rejection by Israel, recorded in Matthew chapter twelve. And it was only following this climactic rejection that the calling into existence of the Church came into view in Christ’s ministry (Matthew 16:18).
The same thing can be seen in the re-offer of the kingdom of the heavens to Israel, though from a different perspective. There was a climactic rejection by Israel in Acts chapter seven, and this was immediately followed by a heretofore unseen individual being introduced. Paul, the one whom God had chosen to carry the message to the Gentiles, was waiting in the wings.
The Church was God’s new entity on earth to carry God’s message to the Gentiles (though God’s command was to carry the message “to the Jew first” so long as the offer of the kingdom remained open to Israel). And Paul was the central person within this new entity — the one whom God had chosen — to lead those comprising this new entity in a correct direction at the beginning. Paul was to set the course that Christians comprising the Church at the time of and following his conversion were to take, and he was to be the prototype set forth by God to show how other Christians, as well, should conduct their lives as they moved in this direction.
And not only was this the case, but Paul was the one through whom God had chosen to make known all the various things surrounding the message being carried to the Gentiles — things encompassed within the scope of the mystery (Ephesians 3:1-11). Then, beyond that, Paul was correspondingly the vehicle through whom God would, by means of His revealed Word, communicate to the Church the numerous things surrounding the ministry to which He had called Paul.
God would use Paul to write thirteen epistles (fourteen if he wrote Hebrews). And these epistles, along with the general epistles, would reflect on preceding revelation and provide all the various God-given facets of information surrounding the offer of the kingdom of the heavens to the Gentiles.
2. The Course of the Dispensation Set
From the moment that the Jewish religious leaders rejected Stephen’s message and “ran upon him with one accord,” placing their clothes “at the feet of a young man named Saul,” and “stoned Stephen” (Acts 7:57-59), the course of the dispensation was set. God, from this point forward, though the door still remained open for Israel to repent, would begin to work with and through Paul.
From this point forward, the progression of events would increasingly go in a completely different direction. From this point forward, the focal point for the message would be the Gentile world.
And because of the man whom God had chosen — a man wholly given over to fulfilling his calling — this message would be carried throughout the Gentile world during the short course of the next three decades (Colossians 1:5, 6, 20-23).