Why did Saul preach the kingdom gospel of “Jesus is the Christ” (v. 20 cf. John 20:31) instead of the gospel he later preached of “Christ died for our sins” (I Cor. 15:1-4)? It’s important to know the answer, for those who say he preached the kingdom gospel early in his ministry say he preached the kingdom program in his early epistles. That would mean Romans, Corinthians, Galatians and Thessalonians were written to Jews under the kingdom program and not to us.
But what would you preach if you were facing unsaved Jews in a synagogue who didn’t know Jesus was their Christ? Jesus is the Christ! That’s where we must begin with unsaved Jews. But that’s not all he preached, that’s all Luke wrote down. Nineteen years later Luke said that’s still all he preached in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1), but we know he preached his gospel there too (Rom. 16:25 cf. I Thes. 1:5). He preached that Christ died for us there (I Thes. 4:14; 5:10), so he probably preached that in Acts 9:20 as well.
So why didn’t Luke say he preached more? He was writing as a historian, not a theologian. The new program of grace was given to Paul, not him. Paul’s theology is in his epistles.
Saul nearly died when he didn’t drink for three days (9:9). He was strengthened a little in v.19 and more here (v. 22). He proved Jesus was Christ to those unsaved Jews the same way he did in Acts 17:2,3, by proving their own Scriptures predicted Christ would die and rise again—like Jesus did!
They didn’t like his message so decided to kill the messenger (v. 23). The phrase lie in wait (v. 24) refers to a secret ambush (Pr. 1:11). Paul knew about this secret because he was a prophet (I Cor. 13:2) and prophets could know stuff like that (II Ki. 6:11). The disciples helped him escape in a basket over the city wall (v. 25). II Corinthians 11:32 tells us that they got the government to do their dirty work of trying to kill him, just as they convinced Pilate to execute the Lord.
The word “assayed” means to try (Heb. 11:29). You’d think the disciples would know that anyone who had to escape those unsaved Jews in a basket was a legitimate believer, but they figured it was all a clever ruse to gain their confidence and trap them and kill them.
When Acts 9:26,27 says Saul went to Jerusalem and saw the 12, we know three years have passed (Gal. 1:13-18). Now you’d think Saul would have wanted to see the 12 apostles right away, and maybe he did. But the Lord would have steered him away from them lest people think he got his message from them and preached the same thing they did.
He didn’t! God gave him a whole new message and pro-gram, the message and program of grace! When Saul finally did meet with the 12, they didn’t tell him what they preached. He already knew what they preached. He wouldn’t have been killing them without doing his homework. He killed them in all good conscience (Acts 23:1). No, he told them what he preached (Gal. 2:1-7). We assume Saul spent those three years in Arabia learning the mystery, since it took the Lord three years to train the 12.
From Acts 9 forward in Acts, the focus shifts away from the 12 to Paul, and that begins here. That explains why Peter had the gift of prophecy in Acts 5:1-9 when he just knew Ananias and Sapphira were lying, but didn’t know Saul wasn’t lying here when he said he was a disciple. He was beginning to lose his spiritual gifts! Not all at once, for he’s about to heal a man and raise a woman from the dead. But God had already taken away his gift of prophecy and given it to Paul.
How did Barnabas know Saul wasn’t lying? We’re not told. Perhaps he saw Saul use his gift of prophecy, or heard him preaching. All we know for sure is that Saul hung out with the 12 in Jerusalem (v. 28) for fifteen days (Gal. 1:18). Long enough to get the Grecians angry enough to kill him (v. 29).
When the churches had rest after Saul got saved (v. 30,31), that proves he was the main persecutor of the church. And if God can save His worst enemy, that proves that He can save you, no matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ…and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31).
Video of this sermon is available on YouTube: What Do Good Guys Wear? – Acts 9:20-31