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FIRST-PERSON: The apostle Paul stayed ‘on message’ amid terror

CHICAGO (BP)–The apostle Paul lived in a society full of violence and terrorists. Terrorists sought his life, he was mistaken for a terrorist and he was accused of terrorism. In this day of terrorist attacks on our nation how can Paul’s experience with terrorism show us the godly way to respond?

In the first century, Jewish zealots resisted Roman rule through violent assassinations. “Sicarii,” knifewielders, would blend into crowds at Jewish festivals, surround Roman soldiers, murder them and melt back into the crowds. The Roman government, through its crucifixion of its opponents and other violent suppression of dissent, conducted what amounts to state-sponsored terrorism.

In Acts 23 Luke writes that 40 or more men conspired to murder Paul while in Roman custody. Certainly they constituted terrorists. Those who started the riot around the temple and attempted to murder Paul, as described in Acts 21:27-36, also may qualify as terrorists. When Paul was arrested by the Roman commander of the Jerusalem garrison, Claudius Lysias, he was initially mistaken as an Egyptian terrorist (Acts 21:37-8). Then when brought to trial in Caesarea, Paul’s opponents accused him of inciting civil unrest and insurrection — again, essentially terrorism. Finally, new scholarship indicates that these charges followed Paul to Rome and his trial before Nero.

What was Paul’s response to this onslaught of attacks and accusations?

First, he worked within the existing legal system, as corrupt as parts of it were, for his own safety and the safety of others. For example in Acts 23:17, Paul instructs one of his guards to take his nephew to the Roman commander so that the terrorist plot can be dealt with.

Second, Paul and his companions avoided violence; see Acts 17:10, 19:8-9, 30-31.

Third and most importantly, he did not get distracted from presenting the gospel. In fact, he used these attacks and the trials that followed as opportunities, as platforms, to spread the message of salvation. When opponents tried to kill him at the temple, he used his arrest as an opportunity to tell of his conversion, and in Acts 26 Paul turns his legal defense into another call to faith. In fact I believe Luke, in writing Acts, was using the occasion of Paul’s trial pending before Nero and the opportunity to write a legal brief in his defense as a presentation of the gospel to Theophilus and other Roman officials.

How can we use the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 to further the gospel? As we pray for the victims, the perpetrators and this nation, let us also pray that as the apostle Paul did, that we may use occasion of the violence and terrorism initiated by Satan to proclaim the mercy of God offered in Messiah Jesus even to the terrorist. When Paul did so in Acts 26:9-11, he recounted his own history of violence. Thus as we do proclaim, we must remember that but for God’s grace we are all suicide bombers.

Since the attacks, this message of evangelistic opportunity has been heard throughout the body of Messiah’s followers and galvanized them into a charge akin to that of the Israelite army in Joshua 7 when the walls of Jericho collapsed. However, the enemies of the gospel have not surrendered. I have seen vicious counterattacks, also since Sept.11. Some have questioned the moral authority of a God who would allow such mass killing. Others have asserted that any Christian suggesting that America take moral inventory as a result of the attacks are just as bad as the Taliban!

Again, Paul’s example can help us. He stayed on message and he encouraged the saints by explaining that persecution was normal: “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
Mauck is a Chicago attorney specializing in church zoning matters and the author of “Paul on Trial, the Book of Acts as a Defense of Christianity,” published by Thomas Nelson & Co., 2001, which argues that Acts was written as a legal brief.

    About the Author

  • John Mauck