Paul-Zealous Persecutor to Zealous Apostle
I've been so intrigued by Paul. 5' high, dark hair, dark complexion, large Roman nose, sharp face, small black eyes-penetrating as eternity, round shoulders, whining voice, except when elevated and then it almost resembles the roaring of a lion.(Joseph Smith) He was rude of speech, sickly, small.
The Jews and Saul were ready for the time when there would be freedom for the Jewish people-this according to their prophecies which Saul knew so well. They felt that now was the time to defend the faith-no, not just the faith, but the whole Jewish kingdom, culture, spiritual life, and people. To Saul Jesus represented grave danger to the Jews. Jesus Christ represented everything that had to be stamped out in order to maintain Israel so that the promises of Abraham and Moses could be fulfilled. And the people were gearing up for the prophecies of fulfillment to come to fruition. That's what was happening at this time.
The Jews were still in exile-not physical exile, but "of spirit and flesh. As long as pagans were ruling over Israel, they were again in exile.. . .And since the exile was the result of Israel's idolatry (no devout Jew would have contested that point, since the great prophets had made it so clear), what they needed was not just a new Passover, a new rescue from slavery to pagan tyrants. They needed forgiveness." (N.T. Wright, Paul) They were looking for deliverance.
"We are looking at a zealous young Jew determined to do God's will whatever it cost, eager to purge Israel from idolatry and sin and keen to hasten the time when God would come back and rule his world with justice and righteousness.(N.T. Wright, Paul) Saul of Tarsus set off to defend Torah and Temple-all under attack by this new group of followers of Jesus. (jesus has been crucified already). "With his Bible in his head, zeal in his heart, and official documents of authority from the chief priests in his bag, young Saul set off . . ."(N.T. Wright, Paul) There wasn't a more unlikely person to be called by Jesus the Anointed One to the work. How did he move from the zealous persecutor to the zealous apostle?
We know that something completely momentous and life-changing occurred. He was shaken to his core. He was called. "Saul of Tarsus, head full of scripture, heart full of zeal, raises his head raises his eyes slowly upward. . .he is seeing now eyes wide open, conscious of being wide awake but conscious also that there seems to be a rift in reality, a fissure in the fabric of the cosmos, and that his waking eyes are seeing things so dangerous that were he not prepared, so purified, so carefully devout, he would never have dared to come this far. Upward again, from the chest to the face. He raises his eyes to see the One he has worshipped and served all his life. . .And comes face to face with Jesus of Nazareth." (N.T. Wright, Paul)
Paul comes to understand that Jesus WAS the fulfillment of the promises and prophecies that his people were looking for. This wasn't a case of Saul/Paul being converted to Christianity. "Religion" didn't mean the same thing then that it does now. Then it meant a way of life, surrounding the spiritual, the cultural, the emotional, the daily, everything. It encompassed real life. Now "religion" is often separate from daily life. Work, school, hobbies, education, religion-all separated. So Paul believed that Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of the "law and the prophets". What he had been looking towards his whole life. The all-encompassing Gospel was part of every day life, every aspect of it.