The Following thought for the day was written by Brother Richard Morgan and provides insight and encouragement for those seeking to serve the God of Israel.

Jesus and Saul of Tarsus

We know that Saul of Tarsus saw the risen Lord Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. But did he meet him before that happened? There are a couple of clues that Saul may well have encountered Jesus earlier in his life.

In today’s reading from Luke 11, we find Jesus dining with a Pharisee. He challenges the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and is heard by one of the lawyers who said, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” (v45). The lawyers, or experts in the law, were the scribes, often paired with the Pharisees.

There’s one term that stands out in Jesus’ rebuke of the lawyers that may mean Saul was there listening and was one of the scribes Jesus addressed. In verse 47, Jesus tells them that “you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed.” They weren’t the ones who physically killed the prophets, but, as Jesus goes on to say, they were there in spirit – “So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs.” (v48).

The fact they consented to the deeds of those who killed the prophets means they were just as guilty. The key here is the word for “consent,” a term only used in two other places in Scripture. One is in Romans 1, where Paul, after listing a series of sins, admonishes those who not only do them but “give approval to those who practice them.” (v32). In other words, even if we’re not physically participating in sin, if we approve of it, we are guilty in our hearts.

The only other time the word is used is in Acts 8:1, where we’re told, “And Saul approved of his execution.” That’s about the stoning of Stephen. In the previous chapter, we learn, “Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Acts 7:58). The principle is the same as in the other two examples. Saul didn’t physically throw stones at Stephen; he stood back and looked after the cloaks of those who did. But the fact he approved of it means he was guilty of Stephen’s murder.

Whether or not this connection means Saul of Tarsus was there when Jesus spoke to the lawyers doesn’t take away from the sobering lesson for all of us. When we approve of bad behavior, even if we’re not the ones who are physically guilty, we are still culpable. God is interested in our hearts, not just our actions.

The other time Saul may have been in Jesus’ presence was in Luke 2 when Jesus was twelve years old. We know that Saul learned under the tutelage of Gamaliel. Gamaliel may have been one of the teachers (v46) Jesus conversed with in the temple, and if so, Saul may have been there with him as one of his students.

That’s a lot of “ifs,” but there are several intriguing connections between Jesus’ upbringing recorded in the chapter and the conversion of Saul. For instance, in verse 40, it says of Jesus, “And the child grew and became strong,” and then in verse 52, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature.” When we look at Saul’s conversion, we see a similar thing. Acts 9 records of Saul, “he was strengthened” (v19), just as Jesus became strong (Luke 2:40). Then Acts 9 goes on to say, “But Saul increased all the more in strength” (v22), matching Luke 2:52 as Jesus also “increased.”

Again, the connections are intriguing if not conclusive in determining that Saul was there. But he would have been about the same age, and traveling in similar circles, especially during Jesus’ ministry. We see in Jesus and Saul of Tarsus two religions in conflict, exemplified by the greatest proponents of those religions. The end of the story, of course, is that Saul of Tarsus finally listened to the voice of Jesus of Nazareth that he had been battling against for years.

Richard Morgan,
Simi Hills, CA

View all the thoughts in this series here…