John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: November 1

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John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: November 1

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Visit to Jerusalem

Act_9:26-30; Gal_1:18

On escaping from Damascus Saul proceeded to Jerusalem, where he had not yet been since his conversion.

The direct narrative, in the Acts of the Apostles, does not acquaint us with his precise object in at length returning to that city; but Saul supplies the omission in his Epistle to the Galatians, by stating that he went to Jerusalem “to see Peter.” This apostle had been so conspicuous in the first proceedings of the disciples, after their Lord had been taken from them, that one who had regarded those proceedings with hostile attention, as Saul had done, must have seen him often, and probably heard him sometimes. What he had seen thus formerly, and what he had heard, however adversely it had then impressed him, now interested him deeply, and he longed to form the personal acquaintance of one who seemed a pillar of the rising church, who had been the earliest disciple and close associate of Jesus, and whose history afforded some points in which he could deeply sympathize; for Peter, after thrice denying his Lord, had been pardoned and restored, and Saul, after being a destroyer of the Christians, had been converted to the faith they held, and placed among their leaders and chiefs. Both had “lien among the pots,” yet had risen soaringly from their low estate, as “a dove with wings of silver and feathers of yellow gold.” He had also, doubtless, heard of Peter from the disciples of Damascus. He was at least as conspicuous a character in their view as he is in ours; and we, from the Scripture alone, know far more of him than of any of the other original apostles, and understand his character far better. It is to be feared that the unfounded claims on behalf of Peter, which a corrupt church has advanced for the promotion of its own ambitious aims, have created in many minds an indisposition, if not a repugnance, to recognize his actual prominence in the evangelical history, or to acknowledge his really just claims to consideration. We may see this even in the writings of men of high character and fairness, to whom it would be not only wrong but foolish to impute any more than an unconscious bias. We detect a hesitancy in discussing those great facts in Scripture history in which Peter is the prominent figure—a careful choice of limiting words—a secret fear lest too much to his advantage should be admitted. In all this we see the influence of that natural reaction which takes place, to the disadvantage of those in whose behalf exorbitant pretensions have been made, creating a disposition to disparage them and to ignore their rightful claims. It is natural; but it is sadly natural; and it is wrong. Besides, it is needless. Take any twelve men acting together as a society, a committee, a board, a jury, and we shall always find one who, from his position or character, from his readiness of speech, his exact judgment, his talent for business, or from all or any of the qualities which go to make up an influential character, becomes by much the most prominent man in that body—comes more into view than any one among them—and whose name is much more familiar than theirs to the public ear; and yet who himself would be the first to deny that he has any right of authority or dominion over those with whom he acts. Of all the modes of influence, this, arising from character and endowments, is the least obnoxious and the most cheerfully recognized. We see it exercised daily in our town councils, in our parish vestries, and why should we be so anxious to deny or to attenuate it in the case of Peter?

Let us meet the case boldly, and say that both on public and private grounds there was much reason why Saul should desire to form a personal acquaintance with the ardent and zealous apostle, who was then the most conspicuous person in the church; in whose character he now saw so much to respect and admire; and whose brother in the work and faith of the Gospel, he had, by Divine appointment, now become. Instruction from Peter, or authority or recognition from hire, he needed not. Both of them had been taught by the same Master, both authorized by the same Lord. But we cannot doubt that Saul promised himself much satisfaction in holding converse with one who had been so intimately near the Lord’s person while on earth, and who could therefore tell him much that he desired to know.

On his arrival at Jerusalem, however, his reception by the disciples was not such as he expected. He was regarded with distrust and suspicion, and his attempts to unite himself to them were discouraged or repelled. This seems strange to us; but it is not unaccountable. The disciples would naturally retain a more vivid recollection of the suffering this man had formerly caused among there, and the inveteracy of his hatred against them, than of the rumor they might have heard a good while since of his conversion in a distant city, subsequently to which he had for a considerable period disappeared from public view; and it is likely they had not heard of his reappearance at Damascus, and of the more recent proceedings in that city—as the disturbed state of the country, between Aretas on one side, and Herod with the Romans on the other, was unfavorable to communications between the two cities; and although there was ordinarily much intercourse between these places, yet about this time there were circumstances (as we shall presently see) calculated to deter the Christians of Damascus from visiting Jerusalem.

Saul also, from the hurried circumstances of his escape, was probably unprovided with those letters of recommendation with which, in those days, a disciple going to another city was usually furnished by those belonging to the place he had left. It is also quite possible that, in attempting to disguise the loss they had sustained, the Jewish authorities had spread reports tending to throw discredit upon the reality or sincerity of his conversion, and to damage him in the estimation of those he had joined. At all events, it seems not difficult to understand how the disciples at Jerusalem should have shrunk with instinctive dread and suspicion, from one who had been so violent a persecutor, whose conversion seemed altogether so improbable, and of whose later proceedings they had no information.

From this trouble Saul was relieved by that good Barnabas of whom we have formerly heard, and who in this case also proved himself a true “son of consolation.” It is quite likely that Saul and Barnabas had been previously acquainted at Tarsus, and afterwards at Jerusalem; for Cilicia lay on the part of the Asiatic coast nearest to the island of Cyprus, to which Barnabas belonged, and there was much intercourse between it and the mainland, where Saul’s native place was the nearest important city. In this case, or if only because that Barnabas was, like himself, not a native Jew, it was natural that he should apply to him for an introduction to the church at Jerusalem. To him he doubtless explained all that had happened to him, and the course he had taken; and Barnabas, convinced of his truth, took him by the hand, and, by giving the sanction of his high authority to the recital of Saul’s conversion and recent proceedings, secured for him a most cordial reception from the disciples. He then realized his object; for Peter took him to lodge with him; and for a fortnight the two apostles—the great apostle of the circumcision, and the great apostle of the uncircumcision—remained under the same roof. Happy days for both, doubtless, were these; and one seems to long for further information than has been vouchsafed respecting the first interview and subsequent intercourse between these truly “great men.” For this, and for much that we want to know, we must be content to wait. Perhaps Saul will tell us one day; perhaps Peter will; perhaps we shall know without their telling. But we do know that these days did not last. Saul, as usual, burning to be useful, put his hand boldly into the hornet’s nest, by preaching Christ crucified in the synagogues of the Hellenists—in the very synagogues in which he had last appeared as the most ardent champion and most promising advocate of Pharisaic Judaism. This was not to be borne, and a conspiracy was now laid against his life. What was he to do? We happen to know that he was sensitive respecting his recent withdrawal from Damascus. He counts it among his “infirmities,” and feared lest it should appear that he had shunned to suffer for Christ’s sake. It is likely that, in this state of feeling, he would have remained at Jerusalem, to seal his testimony, as Stephen had done, with his blood. But it was not so to be. The time was not come. There was much for him to do, and much to suffer, before he could obtain that high advancement. He was therefore warned by his Lord in a vision, as he was at prayer in the Temple, that the Jews at Jerusalem would not receive his testimony. This was not his vocation. He was to labor far off among the Gentiles, and to them he was accordingly sent. The disciples conducted him down to the port of Caesarea, and saw him safely embarked for Tarsus, his native city.