Acts 8:3

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Wednesday, 8 June 2022

As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Acts 8:3

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It was just noted that Stephen was carried to his burial. But that did not stop the persecution of the church. In fact, Luke’s next words show that it continued, highlighting the very person who guarded the clothes of those who stoned Stephen, saying, “As for Saul.”

The name Saul is from the Hebrew Shaul. That comes from the verb shaal, meaning to inquire or ask for. Thus, it means “Asked For.” What may be implied is “Asked for (of Yah).” For example, the people of Israel had asked for a king, and the Lord gave them Saul, the first king to reign over Israel. Or it could be that a parent asks for a child and the Lord responds by granting one. The word, however, is identical in spelling to the word sheol, or the place of the dead. In this, one can imagine the grave calling out for the souls of humanity, asking for them to come and join it. Of Saul, Luke notes that “he made havoc of the church.”

The tense is imperfect. It says, “making havoc.” It shows that there was a continuous stream of him relentlessly going after the people. Also, here is a word found just this one time in Scripture and translated as “made havoc.” It signifies outrage or to maltreat. Of this word, Vincent’s Word Studies says –

“In Septuagint, Psalm 79:13, it is used of the laying waste of a vineyard by the wild boar. … Canon Farrar observes: ‘The part which he played at this time in the horrid work of persecution has, I fear, been always underrated. It is only when we collect the separate passages – they are no less than eight in number – in which allusion is made to this sad period, it is only when we weigh the terrible significance of the expressions used that we feel the load of remorse which must have lain upon him, and the taunts to which he was liable from malignant enemies’ (‘Life and Work of St. Paul’). Note the imperfect, of continued action.”

It has already been noted that the church was scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. However, the next verse will explain that this was a result of Saul’s actions. As such, it can be concluded that as soon as Stephen was stoned, he immediately started going after the believers. As mere speculation, it could be that those in the council said, “We need to crush this teaching right now, when we have the initiative.” With that, Saul responded with zeal. This would be in accord with his own words of Acts 26 –

“This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.” Acts 26:10, 11

With this in mind, Luke says that Saul was “entering every house.” It would explain why it says “devout men” rather than “brethren” who were there to bury Stephen. The believers had fled. Only the devout non-believers were left. The persecution began right away, and the believers were hiding in their homes or taking the roads back to their own hometowns. For those who were apprehended, Luke next notes that Saul was “dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.”

The verbs continue to show an active and ongoing action by Saul. He came after the people and he kept coming after them, tirelessly chasing them down and having them incarcerated. The word “dragging” indicates that they were in a rage as they arrested the people, so much so that they grabbed body parts – the hair, the arms, the legs – and simply dragged them out to be bound up and taken away.

Noting both men and women was to show that there was no tolerance at all for anyone who held to the name of Jesus. Even if the men were primarily responsible for the households, the women were a part of the households and were thus subject to the same charges of apostasy as the men.

Life application: Saul was really the first persecutor of the church. But it didn’t end with his conversion. Rather, it has gone on steadily since those early days. One of the greatest persecutors of those who have faithfully held to Scripture is, not unsurprisingly, the Roman Catholic Church. While they have been caught up in a system of traditions, unbiblical rites and rituals, and in the adoration of the dead and of idols, faithful people have stood against this. And in their actions, they have been rounded up, sent through terrible tortures, and many were martyred.

Likewise, Christians have been killed in vast numbers by Muslims, Hindus, and people of other religions, or by those who deny any God exists – such as communists. This has been the norm, not the exception for much of the church age. The persecution of Christians has been on the increase in places like Canada, the US, Australia, Germany, and the UK in recent years. Legal battles have been played out in courts, but tolerance for the gospel has decreased in the minds of so many that it is only a matter of time before even worse comes upon believers.

Should the Lord tarry, the lines will surely be divided up between those who truly love Christ and are willing to stand up for His gospel, and those who either pay lip service to Him or are at odds with Him. Now is the time to prepare yourself for holding fast to the Lord. Stay in the word, keep Jesus in your heart and mind at all times, and determine now to never let this temporary world pull you away from Him!

Lord God, may we be found faithful to You until the end. It is a tough world, and many of us have never had to face persecutions or trials of faith. May we be prepared now so that should those times come, we will hold fast to our proclamation that Jesus is the answer to the world’s problems. Help us in this, O God. Amen.