Although Paul was an apostle, it was proper for him not to take hospitality for granted, and he waited until Lydia insisted. Similarly, when Jesus walked on the Sea of Galilee, he ignored the apostles until they called out to him, “Master, save us!” (Mark 6:48-51).
Here is a good example of how we have to grow in our understanding of the deep things of God lest we react like zombies and our minds fail to grasp important details. This principle is especially true with regard to prophetic truths, which are dispensationally understood when the due time comes.
Paul and Barnabas kept backtracking. They went back to confirm the converts in their faith and to encourage them to continue on in the narrow way. Notice that a big change occurred. On their return visits, Paul and Barnabas did not go to the synagogues but went instead to those who were receptive, to those who had a hearing ear. The disciples would have been strengthened in their own faith to see Paul’s courage in returning to these cities. Paul’s willingness to suffer persecution gave more and more credence to what he was preaching and showed that he and Barnabas were men of conviction who were not fearful of persecution because they believed wholeheartedly what they preached.
Notice what naturally happened. The rulers of the synagogue asked the two strangers if they had “any word of exhortation for the people” and perhaps also wanted to hear any news that would be of interest to the congregation. Also, they would want to know the thoughts of others of Jewry in regard to the passage of the Law just read. Paul stood up quickly and beckoned with his hand as if to say, “I have something of significance to say.” Then he spoke courageously, feeling the importance of the situation and the message, and knowing that God had anointed him, through Jesus, to be a special ambassador to the Gentiles.
About AD 39, Herod also seized Peter. Both James Zebedee and Peter were apprehended at the season of Passover, the same time of year that Jesus was crucified. Thus there are examples in Scripture that Passover is a critical time. The death of Peter was supposed to take place after the seven-day Feast of Passover, for if it had occurred during the feast, the services would have been disrupted and the Jews would have protested that their feast was sullied. Herod was trying to cater to the wishes of the Jews, and since the death of James pleased the people, Herod thought Peter’s execution would also please them. In summary, then, during the Passover season, Peter was found, apprehended, and imprisoned. His imprisonment was under “four quarternions,” that is, four shifts of four soldiers each. According to the Greek, the word “Easter” in verse 4 should be “Passover.”
Jewish Christians were stirred up and “contended” with Peter when he went to a conference in Jerusalem in regard to his preaching to and fraternizing with Gentiles. Peter used the opportunity to relate “the matter from the beginning.” The other apostles, as well as brethren, were present. It was advantageous for him to be able to explain to many at the same time rather than to rehearse the matter to them one by one at various times.
What a startling account! Peter was starting to give a long baptismal sermon, or discourse, about Jesus when he was interrupted by a manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s coming down as it had 3 1/2 years earlier at Pentecost with the Jews. Not only was the similarity to Pentecost astonishing to the Jews, but also, while Peter was actually speaking, the Holy Spirit descended without formal prayer and without an altar call, as it were. Peter had simply said that whoever believed in Jesus would receive the remission of sins through his name, and immediately the Holy Spirit came on the waiting Gentiles because they were in a receiving attitude. It is a testimony to the life and heart condition of Cornelius that he had witnessed to and gathered so many others to hear someone who had not yet arrived. Of the Gentiles assembled there, waiting in expectation, all were right-hearted and thus “heard the word” and received the Holy Spirit. Notice, too, that the Holy Spirit preceded baptism here, and there was no laying on of hands by the apostles.
The last mention of Saul was in connection with witnessing the death of Stephen. From his prejudiced standpoint, Saul could not recognize the saintly character of Stephen, even though he heard the long, bold sermon to the priesthood and the authorities and witnessed the stoning and Stephen’s kneeling down with a radiant face. Saul thought Christianity was a false religion, and although he could see that stamping it out would be very difficult, he felt that something had to be done to stop those who, like Stephen, spoke so boldly and so confidently and were willing to die in a resigned fashion for their beliefs. Feeling a personal responsibility to do everything in his power to stop this new interpretation of the Old Testament Scriptures, he got letters (plural) of authority from the high priest. This meant that the high priest wrote to the one in charge of each synagogue Saul would be visiting en route to Damascus, his destination.
Saul consented to the stoning of Stephen. Having been trained under the Law, he probably felt duty-bound to do so. He considered his defense of God to be just and righteous, and he did not see that his actions were a perversion of reason.
Saul’s conversion occurred within a year after Jesus’ death. The tremendous outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the early Church and their oneness of spirit, as well as the “great persecution” that followed, also took place in the same year.
The stoning of Stephen took place outside the city walls on Golgotha, where Jesus had been crucified. The signification of being put to death outside the city was that the individual was accursed and apart from God and the holy city. The custom was to first push the person off Golgotha hill and then dispatch (kill) the fallen victim with stones.