From Acts to the Epistles
Arlen L. Chitwood
Paul’s Immediate Message
Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.
Then all who heard were amazed, and said, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?”
But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.
Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him. . . .
And they watched the gates day and night, to kill him. (Acts 9:20-24)
Paul, traveling from Jerusalem to Damascus, carried “letters” from the high priest in Jerusalem. These letters were addressed to “the brethren” (to the Jews in the synagogues in Damascus); and they gave Paul the authority, as the official agent of the Sanhedrin, to carry out the task at hand. These letters would be recognized by the Jews in Damascus as official documents, allowing Paul the freedom to find, bind, and take back to Jerusalem any individuals that he found in Damascus “of the Way” (cf. Acts 9:1, 2; 22:4, 5; 26:10-12).
Paul though was converted in route to Damascus through Christ’s personal appearance to him. And following his immersion in and being filled with the Spirit, he spent several days with the Christians he had come to Damascus to bind and take back to Jerusalem. Then, immediately afterward, he went to the synagogues in Damascus, but not with reference to the letters that he carried. Rather, he went to the synagogues to proclaim that which he himself had come to realize — that Jesus was the Son of God, the very Christ (Acts 9:1-22).
This astonished those who heard him, for they knew what he had been doing and the original intent of his journey from Jerusalem to Damascus. And, because of that which he was now doing, the Jews in Damascus “took counsel to kill him” (vv. 20-23).
But, unlike Stephen’s ministry that had come to an end following his proclamation of this same truth, the Lord was just beginning to work through Paul. Some of the Christians in Damascus lowered Paul over the city wall in a basket (since the city gates were guarded), and Paul then traveled to Jerusalem and sought to “join himself to the disciples” there. But, prior to Barnabas’ intervention on Paul’s behalf, explaining what had happened at Damascus, the Christians in Jerusalem were afraid of him (vv. 24-27).
Afterward, Paul began to speak “boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus” in Jerusalem, resulting in some of the Christians in the city having to take him to Caesarea and then sending him to Tarsus, outside the land of Israel (vv. 28-30). And it was after this that the Lord led Paul into Arabia and personally taught him — over a period lasting possibly as long as three years — the message that he was to carry to the Gentiles (Galatians 1:11-18).
Note in the book of Acts that Paul is conspicuously absent during the period extending from verse thirty of chapter nine to verse twenty-five of chapter eleven. And this period not only covers several years but events occurring during this period open the way for Paul, at the end of this period, to be reintroduced and begin the ministry to which he had been called.
During this period, the message had begun to be carried to the Gentiles (10:1ff); and once Paul had been taught the various things about the message that he was to carry to the Gentiles, then he is reintroduced in the book and replaces Peter as the central person in the early Church through whom God would then continue His work (13:2ff).
Peter had been God’s chosen spokesman to carry the message to the Jews; but, with Israel’s climactic rejection after hearing Stephen, there was a shift within God’s plans and purposes from the Jews to the Gentiles; and attention at this time immediately turned to Paul, who was God’s chosen spokesman to later carry the message to the Gentiles (cf. Galatians 2:7, 8). And, though the door still remained open for Israel to repent, with the message, of necessity, still going “to the Jew first,” it was now “also to the Greek [Gentile]” (Romans 1:16).
Following Stephen’s death, the emphasis shifted from Peter’s ministry to Paul’s ministry (though Paul hadn’t even been converted at this time, and his main ministry would not begin for several years). The emphasis shifted from the re-offer of the kingdom to Israel to an offer of the kingdom to the Gentiles (saved Gentiles, Christians), though, again, the message was still “to the Jew first.”
(In order to see the proper sequence of different things that have been briefly covered in the preceding several paragraphs, the remainder of this chapter will deal with Paul’s ministry immediately following his conversion, the next chapter  will deal with “the mystery” opened up and revealed to Paul by the Lord in Arabia, and several following chapters [particularly 9, 10, and 12] will deal with Paul’s ministry after his return from Arabia.
Paul’s ministry within the scope of his calling — as the apostle to the Gentiles — is seen only following his return from Arabia, for this ministry had to do with “the mystery” revealed to him while in Arabia [cf. Galatians 1:11-18; Ephesians 3:1-11; Colossians 1:20-29]. Paul’s ministry immediately following his conversion [a relatively short ministry] was to Israel, with the kingdom of the heavens in view; and following his being taught by the Lord in Arabia, his ministry [covering several decades] was to the Gentiles — though, still “to the Jew first” — with the kingdom of the heavens in view.
The whole of the New Testament has to do with a message surrounding the kingdom of the heavens. This message is introduced in the gospels [derived from the Old Testament Scriptures], continued in Acts, then continued in the epistles [both the Pauline and general epistles], and then realized in the book of Revelation.
Salvation itself is looked upon in two main senses in the New Testament: (1) Man passing from death unto life [being brought back into a position wherein he can realize the purpose for his very existence — to rule and reign (Genesis 1:26-28)], and (2) man ultimately coming into a realization of the purpose for his very existence [occupying a position with Christ in the kingdom].
The message to Israel in both the gospel accounts and the book of Acts centers on the latter, not the former. The message was directed to a people to whom God had, during Moses’ day given the Passover lamb; and these people — the Jewish people — had been sacrificing and applying the blood of the paschal lambs year after year throughout the centuries from Moses to Christ.
However, the message going to the Gentiles, or to any generation of Jews living beyond the time when the kingdom of the heavens was originally offered and then re-offered to Israel, is another matter entirely. The bearer of the message would have to begin with the former — the simple gospel of the grace of God. Only then could a message surrounding the kingdom of the heavens come into view [reference chapters 3 & 4, “Restoration of All Things,” and “Acceptance by Many”].
These things, along with a new creation “in Christ” being in view [with the Jew and the Gentile together in one body], is why Paul had to be taken into Arabia and receive extensive instructions from the Lord concerning the message that he had been called to proclaim. And if a person doesn’t come into some understanding of the overall proclamation of the message surrounding the kingdom of the heavens — beginning with Israel and progressing to the Gentiles, with the kingdom ultimately being realized — that person will fail to understand the main purpose of salvation and the main message of the New Testament, whether in the gospels, Acts, the epistles, or the book of Revelation.)
God’s Son, The Christ
Paul, at the time of his conversion, was a Jew who had been well trained in the Old Testament Scriptures. He had previously sat at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the great teachers of the law of that day (Acts 22:3; cf. Acts 5:34). Paul understood the “letter” of Scripture; and once his blindness had been lifted, his prior training allowed him to easily see — from the very Scriptures that he had studied over the years, Scriptures that he knew — exactly what had happened, what was presently happening, and what would happen should Israel repent.
Paul didn’t have to spend time studying the Scriptures to know that Jesus was the Son of God, the very Christ. He didn’t have to spend time studying the Scriptures to know the things surrounding that which Stephen had previously tried to get the religious leaders in Israel to see. Paul knew the “letter” of Scripture and could now easily see that of which the “letter” spoke, within its correct spiritual framework.
And after being immersed in and filled with the Spirit and spending several days with the Christians in Damascus, he immediately went into the synagogues of the city and preached Christ — “that He is the Son of God,” “proving that this is very Christ” (Acts 9:20-22). He confounded the Jews, showing them from their own Scriptures (using the Scriptures to prove) the exact identity of the One Whom they had rejected and crucified.
Had Paul been called as another apostle to carry the message to Israel, there would have been little need for the Lord to later take him aside for an extensive period to teach him the message that he was to proclaim. Paul was already preeminently qualified for a ministry of this nature to Israel. But he was far from qualified for the ministry to which he had been called, for this ministry involved going to a people “having no hope, and without God in the world.” And aside from that, it involved “a remnant according to the election of grace.” Then, including both those without God and those within the remnant, it involved what is called in Scripture, “the mystery” (cf. Romans 11:5; Ephesians 2:12; 3:1-11).
Israel was about to be set aside, and God was about to deal solely with the one new man “in Christ” for almost two millennia before resuming His dealings with Israel. This one new man “in Christ” would be comprised of those taken mainly from among the Gentile nations (though “a remnant according to the election of grace [believing Jews]” would be included), and Paul was called forth as the person through whom God would communicate truths having to do with the message surrounding the kingdom as it would pertain to this new creation during the interim (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 1:11, 12; 3:26-29).
Thus, Paul’s ministry to Israel following his conversion was relatively short, for God had other plans for Paul. But, though short and not his main calling, it was perfectly in keeping with the ministry of others to Israel which had proceeded and it was perfectly in line with his own ministry to the Gentiles which would follow.
1. The Message
Paul’s proclamation of Jesus in the synagogues of Damascus as “the Son of God,” the “very Christ” (Acts 9:20, 22) was a message carrying a prevalent basic Scriptural thought surrounding Sonship. It had to do with the position that Christ held relative to the government of the earth. It was a message concerning Christ and the proffered kingdom.
“Sonship” implies rulership (cf. Matthew 3:17; 4:3-8; 17:5; 2 Peter 1:17). Sons alone occupy positions of rulership within God’s kingdom. That’s the way it has always been, that’s the way it presently exists, and that’s the way it will always continue to exist.
Satan, the incumbent ruler over the earth (the ruler that God placed over the earth in the beginning, the only ruler this earth has ever had), is a son of God; and angels ruling under him are also sons of God.
Angels are sons of God because of a special creative act of God. And an angelic rule of the nature that Satan holds is not peculiar to just this earth, one province in God’s kingdom. This is a form of rule that exists on provinces throughout God’s kingdom, apparently not only in our own galaxy but in other galaxies created and placed throughout the entire universe over which God exercises governmental power and control (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-7).
Satan is “the anointed [‘messianic’] cherub,” placed by God “upon the holy mountain of God,” though one day to be cast out of this “mountain” (Ezekiel 28:14-16).
(The “cherubim” [singular, “cherub”] are first mentioned in Scripture in connection with the earth’s government, establishing an unchangeable way — a first-mention principle — in which angels designated by this name are seen throughout Scripture. They are first seen in Scripture guarding the entrance to the garden in Eden following man being driven from the garden because of sin. They were placed as guardians to prevent man from reentering the garden, in his fallen state, and eating of the tree of life — the tree that would have provided [and will yet future provide] the wisdom and knowledge for man to rule and reign over the earth.
And a “mountain” in Scripture signifies a kingdom. Satan, in his unfallen state, was given a kingdom [this earth], and he was placed, by God, in the position of the messianic angel [the ruling angel] over this “mountain,” this kingdom [v. 14].)
Satan though, the appointed ruling angel over one kingdom in the universe, rebelled against the One Who had placed him in this position. He sought to exalt his throne and become “like the most High,” i.e., he sought to rule all the kingdoms of the universe rather than just the one kingdom over which he had been placed (Isaiah 14:13, 14). And, as a result, judgment was pronounced upon Satan (Isaiah 14:15-17; Ezekiel 28:15-19), and his kingdom was reduced to a state of complete ruin (Genesis 1:2a).
But Satan himself and the angels who accompanied him in his rebellion continued to reign, though over a ruined kingdom. A principle of biblical government necessitates an incumbent ruler, though he may have disqualified himself, to continue holding his position until his God-appointed replacement is not only on the scene but ready to assume the reins of governmental power and authority (e.g., 1 Samuel 15 -- 2 Samuel 1). God has reserved to Himself the right and power to remove one ruler and position another ruler within His kingdom after this fashion (Daniel 4:17-32; 5:17-21).
Scripture opens with one brief statement concerning God, in the beginning, creating the heavens and the earth; and this is followed by one brief statement concerning the earth being reduced to a ruined state (Genesis 1:1, 2a). Then Scripture continues with a detailed account (though brief) of how God restored the ruined province within His kingdom over a six-day period at a later point in time (vv. 2b-25).
And immediately following the restoration of the ruined province, on the same day that God completed his restorative work, he created man, for a revealed purpose. The material creation was restored with a view to man’s creation, and man was created for the purpose of replacing the disqualified, incumbent ruler, Satan (vv. 26-28).
But, though the first man, Adam, was present — a son of God, because of God’s special creative act (which Adam had to be in order to fulfill the purpose surrounding his creation [cf. Luke 3:38]) — God didn’t immediately remove Satan and place Adam in his position. Rather, God allowed the fall to occur, leaving the man disqualified (along with his descendants, who would be sons of Adam, begotten in Adam’s fallen image and likeness), allowing Satan to continue holding the scepter. And this was for purposes involving God’s Son, the second Man, the last Adam (Genesis 3:1ff; 1 Corinthians 15:45-47).
Then, four thousand years later, of the second Man, the last Adam — at the time of His baptism at the hands of John the Baptist — God said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). And this announcement had to do with the matter at hand — Christ’s position in relation to the earth’s government.
Immediately after the Father had declared Jesus to be His “beloved Son,” the Spirit led Jesus “into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil” (Matthew 4:1ff). Where the first man, the first Adam, had failed, Jesus, as the second Man, the last Adam, had to show that He wouldn’t, and really couldn’t, fail. Jesus had to demonstrate, to the incumbent ruler, that He, as God’s Son, was fully qualified to take the scepter.
This was the crux of that which occurred in the temptation account, seen at the very outset of Christ’s ministry; and this was why the temptation at the hands of the incumbent ruler centered on two things: (1) Satan questioning Jesus’ Sonship (“If thou be the Son of God…”), and (2) Satan offering to Jesus all the “power” and “glory” associated with “the kingdoms of the world,” which God had “delivered” to him, contingent on Jesus falling down and worshipping him (cf. Matthew 4:3-9; Luke 4:3-7).
But Jesus, though demonstrating to the incumbent ruler (and thus establishing, once for all, the fact for the record) that He was fully qualified to take the scepter, didn’t immediately assume this position. Rather, following this demonstration, He went to Israel with a message, offering those comprising the nation positions with Him in the kingdom at that future time when He would ascend the throne.
Israel though refused, climaxing this refusal by slaying their Messiah. Then there was a re-offer of the kingdom to Israel by the apostles (and others) in the book of Acts. But Israel still refused, reaching a climactic point in this continued refusal by slaying Stephen.
And, though Paul was called out at this time as the apostle to the Gentiles, the offer of the kingdom still remained open to Israel (as it had immediately following the events of Calvary). And when Paul went to the Jews in the synagogues in Damascus, this whole overall thought is exactly what he had in mind — proving to these Jews, from their own Scriptures, that Jesus was the Son of God, the very Christ (the Messiah, the One Whom God had chosen to take the earth’s scepter, the One Whom God would ultimately place in this position).
2. The Response
Paul’s message to the Jews in Damascus concerned things having to do with the continued re-offer of the kingdom to Israel. But the Jews in Damascus responded to this message exactly as the Jews in Jerusalem had previously responded. They not only rejected the message, but, as the Jews in Jerusalem had previously slain a person proclaiming the message (followed by their slaying numerous other Christians [Acts 26:10]), the Jews in Damascus, in like manner, sought to slay Paul (Acts 9:20-24).
Then, when Paul went to Jerusalem, he began to teach these same truths about Jesus among the Jews there. And their reaction was the same as the Jews in Damascus had been, which was the same as the actions of the religious leaders in Jerusalem had been at the time of Stephen’s message before the council. The Jews in Jerusalem, hearing Paul, not only rejected the message but they also sought to slay Paul as well (Acts 9:26-29).
The course that Israel was following — continued rejection of the message — had already been set, though the offer of the kingdom still remained open and the message was still being carried to Israel. This course was set during the original offer of the kingdom, prior to the events of Calvary; and it was set again in the re-offer of the kingdom, prior to Paul’s conversion.
In the original offer, there was the “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,” a sin which would not be forgiven the nation during either the present age or the coming age (Matthew 12:22-32); and in the re-offer, there was the stoning of Stephen at a climactic time when the heavens had been opened, with Stephen seeing the Glory of God and Jesus standing on the right hand of God (Acts 7:1-60).
The message was to the Jew only throughout the original offer, and it was to the Jew first throughout the re-offer. But in the re-offer of the kingdom, unlike in the original offer, the message was also to the Gentile (Matthew 10:5, 6; Acts 1:8; Romans 1:16).
Paul went only to the Jews in Damascus and Jerusalem, for these were not only Jewish cities but Paul had yet to be instructed concerning the message that he was to carry to the Gentiles as well. But once Paul had had been taken to Arabia, had been instructed by the Lord, and had begun his ministry in the Gentile world; he still carried the message to the Jewish people first.
As long as the offer of the kingdom remained open to Israel, this was God’s designated order, even out in the Gentile world. It didn’t matter what Gentile city Paul entered, as long as the offer of the kingdom remained open to Israel, he always went to the Jews in that city first. And he carried the same message to these Jews that Peter and others had carried to Israel prior to Paul’s conversion It was only after the Jews had rejected the message that he was free to also go to the Gentiles in that city (cf. Acts 13:46-48; 17:1-4; 18:1-6; 19:8; 28:17-28).
And, though some of the Jews in the various cities where Paul’s missionary journeys took him believed (as had occurred throughout the original offer and was occurring during the re-offer of the kingdom), there was no repentance by the nation. There was only rejection (as had also occurred throughout the original offer and was occurring during the re-offer of the kingdom).
In Paul’s case it was to the Jews beginning in Damascus, then Jerusalem, then to those in the various cities in the Gentile world. And it mattered not whether the message was carried to Jews in the land or to Jews dispersed among the Gentile nations; the response was always the same. Some believed, but the nation itself remained in unbelief.
God’s Two Firstborn Sons
For the past 3,500 years God has had two firstborn Sons, Israel and Christ (Exodus 4:22, 23; Hebrews 1:6). And the main thought behind this standing, in relation to both Sons, concerns the rights of the firstborn.
Israel became God’s firstborn son when the nation was adopted during Moses’ day, but Jesus has been God’s firstborn Son from eternity.
The rights possessed by firstborn sons in the Old Testament were threefold — regal rights, priestly rights, and the right to receive a double portion of the father’s goods. The firstborn was to be the ruler of the family, the spiritual head of the family, and receive a double portion of the father’s goods when the inheritance was divided.
Israel is God’s firstborn son because of a special creative act, followed by adoption. Jacob was a special creation of God, and God adopted the nation descending from Jacob through his twelve sons (Isaiah 43:1; Romans 9:4). And, possessing a national firstborn status of this nature, Israel was (and remains today) in line to exercise national kingly and priestly rights in relation to the Gentile nations of the earth. Israel was to rule over the nations, and the nations were to be blessed through Israel; and, originally, Israel was to realize this status through occupying both heavenly and earthly positions in the kingdom — giving Israel a double portion.
Christ though is God’s firstborn Son after an entirely different fashion. He has been God’s firstborn Son from eternity. He is spoken of as “the firstborn of every creature [‘of all creation’]” (Colossians 1:15), “the firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18; cf. Revelation 1:5), and “the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). Christ is the Son above all sons, seated at the right hand of Power in the heavens.
And this is the Son Whom the Father begat, who showed that He was fully qualified to take the earth’s scepter and then paid redemption’s price so man could be placed back in the position for which he had been created; this is the Son who offered Israel positions with Him from the heavens following that time when His Father would give the kingdom to Him and remove the incumbent ruler; and this is the Son who is today offering these same positions (rejected by Israel) to Christians.
(And though God presently has these two firstborn Sons, with a view to these two Sons one day exercising the rights of primogeniture, God will, before these Sons exercise the rights of the firstborn, bring into existence a third firstborn son. God’s firstborn son Israel has forfeited the right to rule and reign from the heavens over the earth, and God will one day bring forth another firstborn son to occupy these heavenly positions.
Christians, as the Israelites, form a special creation, though an entirely different type creation [2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 3:26-29]. And, because of this special creation, Christians, as the Israelites, can one day be adopted into sonship. Christians are presently “children” [a position in which they cannot rule], but they will one day be adopted as “sons” [a position in which they can rule] [Romans 8:18-23]. God will then have a third firstborn son [Hebrews 12:23], with this son having been adopted for the same purpose that Israel was adopted — to realize the rights of primogeniture.
During the Messianic Era, God’s firstborn son, the Church, will rule from the heavens over the nations of the earth; God’s firstborn son, Israel, will rule on the earth, over the Gentile nations; and God’s firstborn Son, Jesus, will rule both from the heavens on His Own throne and from the earth on David’s throne. This is the manner in which the rulership will be established in the coming age, anticipated in Romans 8:19.)
1. Moses’ Message, Paul’s Message
There is a parallel between the message God instructed Moses to deliver to the Pharaoh of Egypt and the message that Paul, almost fifteen centuries later, carried to those in Damascus and Jerusalem shortly after his conversion (and later to Jews throughout the Gentile world). Moses’ message involved one of God’s firstborn Sons and had to do with the rights of primogeniture; and Paul’s message involved both of God’s firstborn Sons and also had to do with the rights of primogeniture.
At the time God called Moses to return to his brethren in Egypt, He instructed Moses to tell the Pharaoh of Egypt,
Thus says the LORD: “Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. . . . .” (Exodus 4:22b, 23a)
And God expected the Pharaoh of Egypt, apart from further explanation, to understand the message. God expected the Pharaoh to understand, from this divine declaration, that “Israel [the nation under subjection to the power of Egypt], not Egypt, was the nation possessing the rights of primogeniture in relation to all the other nations of the earth.”
There is no written record that Moses delivered this message to Pharaoh, in so many words. But there is a written record concerning God delivering this message to Pharaoh. And God delivered the message in such a way — through the death of the firstborn, both an individual and a national death — that, in the end, the power of Egypt found itself buried beneath the waters of the Red Sea, while God’s firstborn son, Israel, stood on the eastern banks (outside Egypt), in resurrection power, singing the victor’s song.
Burial for both Israel and the Egyptians, following the death of the firstborn in Egypt, occurred in the Red Sea. Israel, having experienced the death of the firstborn vicariously, had died, but yet lived. The Egyptians though, having experienced the death of the firstborn apart from a substitute, had died, but couldn’t live.
The dead — both the Israelites and the Egyptians — had to be buried, which occurred in the Red Sea. For the Israelites, the sea had no power over them; and they subsequently stood in resurrection power on the eastern banks. For the Egyptians though, the sea had complete power over them; and they were buried and left in the sea.
And this left God’s firstborn son on the eastern banks of the sea, outside Egypt, ready to go forth and ultimately realize the rights of primogeniture in the land covenanted to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Paul’s message to both the Jews in Damascus and Jerusalem (and later to Jews throughout the Gentile world) concerned both of God’s firstborn Sons — His only adopted firstborn son, and His only begotten firstborn Son. And this message involved the rights of primogeniture to be realized by both Sons.
Paul’s message was directed to one son, and the message was about the other Son. It involved one son (Israel) recognizing and accepting the other Son (Jesus), which would result in Christ’s return, the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, and both Sons together realizing the rights of primogeniture.
But the son to whom the message was proclaimed wouldn’t repent, ultimately resulting in the other Son remaining in heaven until such a time as the Father could bring forth a third firstborn son to occupy the heavenly positions in the kingdom, which had been spurned.
2. From Matthew through Acts
The message delivered to Israel in the section of Scripture extending from the gospel of Matthew through the book of Acts was essentially the same. It had to do with an offer of the kingdom of the heavens, contingent on the nation’s repentance, followed by baptism.
The message delivered by Peter to Israel on the day of Pentecost (at the beginning of the re-offer of the kingdom to Israel [repentance, followed by baptism] — Acts 2:38) was the same basic message that John the Baptist had delivered to Israel (at the beginning of the original offer [repentance, followed by baptism] — Matthew 3:2-6). And the message throughout both the original offer and the re-offer of the kingdom had to do with God’s two firstborn Sons realizing the rights belonging to the firstborn.
This was the message proclaimed to Israel throughout the period. It was introduced by John in the wilderness of Judea (Matthew 3:1ff), and it was concluded over three decades later by Paul in Rome (Acts 28:17-29).