My dear friend,
I write to you on the eve of my departure for Damascus. I know that I am accomplishing the work of God. Yet, tonight my heart is troubled. I must relate an event to you in the hope that, through this letter, my mind can reconcile my mission with the disturbing resolution of this story.
Many months ago, I attended a meeting of the Sanhedrin. Just after daybreak, Judah ben Yosef, captain of the temple guard, entered the courtyard. I detected a slight tremor in his voice as he issued his statement to the high priest.
“Sir, there was no one inside.”
His words silenced the Sanhedrin. I nearly dropped the scroll I was reading as I turned to watch Judah repeat his report to Annas. “I secured the jail myself and posted the guard outside last night. When we went to retrieve the prisoners this morning, the doors were locked but the men were not inside.”
The room erupted in confusion as the gathering tried to make sense of the empty cell. Annas scowled. I wondered if he remembered another ‘room’, heavily guarded, that yielded its occupant without explanation. Jesus’ followers claim that he has risen from the dead. They proclaim him messiah. They heal people in his name. The Sanhedrin has forbidden them to teach in the Galilean’s name and has had them arrested before. Yet, they persist.
A priest, Mattathias, entered the room shouting, “Who released the prisoners? I saw those Galileans preaching in the temple courts.”
The guards left without their chains, hoping the men would come willingly. As we waited for their return, an argument broke out among the high priest’s family. Caiaphas called for blood. Alexander demanded exile. Annas said nothing but stared past them as if contemplating the matter as part of a larger puzzle.
Judah returned with two of the Galilean’s disciples: Peter and John. Annas questioned them. “Why do you disobey our order to cease preaching in that man’s name? You seem determined to fill Jerusalem with your teaching and make us appear guilty of shedding innocent blood.”
Peter, the fisherman, replied, “Our authority comes from God, not men. You crucified Jesus, but God raised him from the dead. And now God offers forgiveness if you will only repent of your sins. The Holy Spirit, whom God gives to those who obey him, is our witness.”
I covered my ears and cried with fury at his blasphemy. My belly burned. Some around me wept for mercy while others shouted for justice. Caiaphas renewed his call for the prisoners to be put to death and, in my heart, I agreed.
And now, my friend, I’ll relate the words that have brought me to my present, troubled state. While the assembly shouted for death, my teacher, Gamaliel, stood. He, who is above all reproach, the grandson of our great rabbi Hillel, stood and everyone became silent. He turned to Judah and asked that the prisoners be taken out for a little while.
Then he addressed the assembly. “Men of Israel, consider today’s decision carefully. You remember the case of Theudas and his disciples. He claimed to be messiah, but when he was killed his followers scattered and his movement dissolved into nothing. Likewise, Judas the Galilean led a revolt during the time of the census. When he was killed his followers also dispersed. Now, consider these disciples of Jesus. I urge you to leave them alone. If their activity is of human origin it will come to nothing.”
Then Gamaliel turned to me. My rabbi spoke to the Sanhedrin, but he looked directly into my eyes. “If this Jesus is who he claimed to be and these men are with God, you will not be able to stop them. Continue fighting them and you will find yourselves making war against God.”
The Sanhedrin relented. They flogged the prisoners and ordered them not to teach in Jesus’ name. Then they let them go.
Since then, they have not ceased their teaching.
I know what I have done. I know what I must do. I know what is right. Tomorrow I will continue the destruction of this movement they call “The Way.” But tonight I’m troubled by a dream that a man of light is readying his armor, preparing to strike me down.
Pray for me, my friend.
With deepest regard,
Saul of Tarsus
"There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." (Proverbs 14:12, NIV)
Author’s Note: This story is based on events recorded in Acts 3-9 with a particular emphasis on Acts 5. Gamaliel, Paul’s teacher (Acts 22:3) and the leader of the Pharisees, was the grandson of Hillel the Elder, one of Israel’s great teachers.
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