Acareful study of what is commonly called the New Testament scriptures will reveal two distinctly different Divine purposes. The one is the “Kingdom of Heaven,” which is to be set up on the earth when Christ returns in glory; the other is the “Mystery,” or the calling out of the church which is Christ’s body and its rapture.
The seed of Abraham, according to the flesh, and the nations are to be blessed in connection with the kingdom of heaven when Christ returns in glory at the close of the tribulation period. The saints of the body of Christ are to be glorified and changed into Christ’s likeness when He returns in the air before the tribulation falls on the earth. Hence, we see that the kingdom of heaven is earthly, and the mystery is heavenly.
The gospel, or glad tidings, or good news concerning the kingdom of heaven was revealed from all the ages. Proof of this is found in the following testimony of the apostle Paul, recorded in Romans 1:1-4—”Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, (which He had promised afore by His prophets in the holy scriptures), concerning His son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead.” The good news concerning the mystery was never revealed prior to the revelation given to the apostle Paul. The scriptural proof for this is found in the statement of Paul recorded in Colossians 1:25-26—”Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God; even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints.”
The ministry in connection with the calling out of the kingdom saints of the New Testament times was committed unto Peter and the eleven associated with him; while the ministry in connection with the calling out of the body saints was committed unto Paul and the seven associated with him. These two separate and distinct ministries are mentioned in Galatians 2:7-9—”But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me (Paul), as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (for he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me towards the Gentiles:) and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.”
The eleven associated with Peter and the kingdom message are named in Matthew 10:2-4. The seven associated with Paul and the mystery message were—Barnabas (Acts 14:4 and 14), Apollos (I Corinthians 4:6 and 9), Sosthenes (I Corinthians 1:1 and 4:9), Silvanus and Timotheus (I Thessalonians 1:1 and 9 ,also 2:4 and 6), Andronicus and Junia (Romans 16:7). The apostle Paul received his commission from the risen Christ. He was given a stewardship in connection with both the kingdom and the mystery. This made him God’s key man between the dispensation of the kingdom preached by Peter, and the dispensation of the mystery. He ministered first as an “able minister of the new testament” (II Corinthians 3:6); and later his ministry was to “make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery” (Ephesians 3:9). As an able minister of the new covenant, Paul was bound with a chain “for the hope of Israel” (Acts 28:20); but later he spoke of himself as an ambassador in bonds for the preaching of the “mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19-20).
It seems that this double ministry of the apostle Paul is seen in certain facts which appeared at his conversion. It is clear that the vision which God gave him was “heavenly” (Acts 26:19). It is also clear that the full purpose of God which was to be revealed through the apostle Paul was not made known unto the apostle on the day of his conversion. This is made clear by the recorded statement of the risen Christ in Acts 26:16—”But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee.” These two sets of “things” seem to make it clear that God gave Paul a vision covering the work which he was to begin immediately and promised to make further revelation in the future. This helps us to understand his early ministry to the “Jew first” in connection with the new testament (Romans 1:16 with II Corinthians 3:6), and his later ministry in connection with the body of Christ, “where there is neither Greek nor Jew” (Colossians 3:11).
The fact that Ananias, a devout Jew, was sent to lay his hands upon Paul and to baptize him with water was definitely characteristic of the kingdom gospel of which Paul first preached in the synagogues. This explains Acts 22:12-16—”And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there, came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him. And he said, The God of our fathers hash chosen thee, that thou shouldest know His will and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of His mouth. For thou shalt be His witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” These verses make it plain that Ananias was used of the Lord to introduce Saul to the first set of “things” mentioned in Acts 26:16, but we have no reason to believe that Ananias knew anything about the second set of “things” referred to in that verse. The laying on of hands and water baptism were essential in connection with Paul’s early ministry, during the Acts period, (Acts 19:5-6) but the ordinances were not carried over into his later ministry (Colossians 2:20-23).
The Story of Saul’s Conversion
Saul’s general attitude and frame of mind concerning the disciples of the Lord is seen in Acts 9verses 1 and 2—”And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.” It seems that his religious zeal had led him into the bitterest kind of hatred for the Lord Jesus and for His disciples.
We have no record as to whether or not Saul ever saw Jesus Christ while he was here in the flesh; but we do know that he saw Him face to face after His crucifixion and resurrection. The story is told in the following verses—”And as he (Saul) journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? And he said, who art Thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do” (Acts 9:3- 6). By comparing Acts 22:14 we know that Saul actually saw Jesus, the Just One, and heard the voice of His mouth while he was on his face in the dust on the Damascus road.
The men who journeyed with Saul heard the voice of the risen Christ, but did not see Him (Acts 9:7). We know from Acts 22:9 that these men, even though they had heard the voice as a sound did not understand the voice to be saying, “Saul, Saul.” The message was singled out to Saul and not to those who accompanied him. These men experienced somewhat the same thing as the people of John 12:28-29 who heard the voice of the Father, but did not understand the words which He spoke.
The risen Christ who told Saul to arise and go to the city also spoke to one of His disciples in that city giving him a direct commission to minister to Saul. The Lord even told him the very street where Saul was lodged, and informed him that Saul was there praying and that he had seen a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him that he might receive his sight (Acts 9:8-12).
Ananias knew something of the past record of this man, Saul of Tarsus; and he hesitated to obey the voice of the Lord (Acts 9:13-14). “But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will shew him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16).
Ananias “went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou Gamest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus” (Acts 9:17-19).
Having received the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands and having been baptized, Saul was ready for his kingdom ministry with the Jewish disciples of Damascus.
Saul’s First Preaching
The young man, Saul, who witnessed the stoning of Stephen with hearty approval (Acts 7:58and 8:1) was, indeed, a man of destiny. He was to stand among the leading persecutors of the risen Christ and His church; he was also to become a preacher of Christ and His gospel who stands without an equal in all the history of the dispensation of grace.
He was “an Hebrew of the Hebrews; and as touching the law a Pharisee” (Philippians 3:5). He religiously “persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: and profited in the Jew’s religion” above many his equal (Galatians 1:13-14). But all the while, he was a “chosen vessel” in the service of the risen Christ; having been “separated” from his mothers womb “and called by His grace” (Acts 9:15 with Galatians 1:15).
Saul’s experience on the Damascus road and under the ministry of Ananias, of Damascus, opened both his physical eyes and the eyes of his understanding. Once he was enlightened, he immediately moved out in defense of the gospel with even more zeal than he had ever manifested against it. He “conferred not with flesh and blood” concerning his call to the ministry (Galatians 1:16).
Notice with what promptness and straight-fowardness he entered into his preaching ministry—”And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ” (Acts 9:20-22). The rank and file of the Jewish congregations meeting in the synagogues believed the same prior to his vision and conversion. But here he preaches Him as the “Son of God” and proves Him to be “very Christ.”
Those who heard Saul preach were amazed because of the complete change in his attitude. A complete change in the attitude of people toward Saul was evident. The believing Jews ceased to fear him and began to fellowship with him; the unbelieving Jews ceased to fellowship with him and began to persecute him.
Notice the treatment he received at Damascus—”And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him: But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket” (Acts 9:23-25).
The “many days” of verse 23 probably included Saul’s trip to Arabia and the “three years” of Galatians 1:15-18—”But when it pleased God, who seperated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by His grace, To reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.” This trip to Arabia must have been made between verses 22 and 23.
Full “three years” lapsed between the day Saul left Jerusalem “breathing out threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1) and the day he returned to Jerusalem to “join himself to the disciples” (Acts 9:26). He had gone out from Jerusalem in the energy of Satan; but he returned in the energy of the Holy Spirit.
Some of the experiences of Saul, the gospel preacher, are recorded in the following verses—”And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem. And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him. Which when the brethern knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus” (Acts 9:26-30).
Following the conversion of Saul, the churches “throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria” had “rest” and were “edified” and “walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied” (Acts 9:31).
One Healed, One Raised From the Dead
Even though Peter’s ministry was destined to fade and Paul’s ministry was to come to prominence, three years after Saul is saved Peter still occupies first place among the churches “throughout all quarters.” The following verses give an account of two outstanding miracles which he performed under the commission of Luke 16:15-20—”And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda. And there he found a certain man named Aeneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy. And Peter said unto him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed. And he arose immediately. And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord” (Acts 9:32-35).
“Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did. And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber. And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come to them. Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and sheaving the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them. But Peter put them all forth and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive. And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord. And it came to pass, that he tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner” (Acts 9:36-43).
These two miracles remind us of the work of God which was so needed in the heart of national Israel. Aeneas represented the helplessness of the nation which was sick in sin, and Dorcas represented the fact that Israel was dead and would have to experience a resurrection.