We have been talking about why so many people seem to hate Paul; hate him enough to want him dead. But Paul wasn’t some kind of cult leader who has radically departed from Judaism. Paul was a faithful Jew who (like the Pharisees) believed in the resurrection of the dead, and like the Pharisees, Paul’s hope was in the promise God made to their Jewish ancestors. It is for this “hope of the Jews” that he was being persecuted.
The fact that Paul still held to his fundamental beliefs as a Pharisee, is reason his Jewish opponents are so violently opposed to him. This is rather surprising. I mean, the Sadducees do not believe in the supernatural, in the resurrection of the dead, or in visions, so, in their minds, Paul’s claims are nonsense, anyway. However, the Pharisees cannot dismiss what Paul is saying as easily. Paul is challenging his former colleagues to accept that their own doctrine has been fulfilled and to trust in Jesus as the Christ, the promised Messiah, Who not only died on a Roman cross, but also rose from the dead. That is what irritates them. All the things they professed came true . . . but they can’t accept it.
Think about that a moment. Many will say that, “God can do anything . . .” but when He does something, they refuse to believe it. Every Sunday they will shout, “Jesus heals . . .” then when he does heal someone, they refuse to accept it. “He is Gawd . .. he can work wonders . . .” but when He does, “Oh, Gawd can’t do that . . .” Hmm, that is what Paul’s former colleagues are struggling with. It is the gospel that Paul’s enemies hate, along with the fact that their former colleague has deserted their ranks to embrace it and to preach it.
“Why do you people think it is unbelievable that God raises the dead?” —Acts 26:8
The New English Translation, along with a number of the modern translations (including the New American Standard Bible), renders the “you” in a way that indicates it is plural, not singular. When he began, Paul was speaking specifically to Agrippa (“Your Majesty”). Now, Paul has expanded his focus to include his entire audience, which would obviously include a number of Gentiles. Up until now, Paul was directly his words to Agrippa as a Jew. He identified himself as a Pharisee, who with great zeal persecuted Christians and opposed the gospel. He indicated that it was his hope in the resurrection of the dead (and of Jesus in particular, as we will soon see) that is the foundation of the accusations against him.
The resurrection of the dead was a fundamental doctrine of the Pharisees. Gentiles found this kind of teaching foolish. I mean seriously, doesn’t it sound peculiar to you? Any practical and scientific analysis would think so. In fact, when Paul preached to the Gentiles in Athens, he included the doctrine of the resurrection in his message. Notice Paul’s words and their response:
Therefore, although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead.” Now when they heard about the resurrection from the dead, some began to scoff, but others said, “We will hear you again about this” —Acts 17:30-32
Apparently, Paul must have noticed a positive response from the Gentile dignitaries who were listening to him, because he turns his attention from Agrippa to the others who were gathered. Do they think it is bizarre that Paul believes Jesus rose from the dead? Many today do not believe it. At first, Paul did not believe the reports of Jesus’ resurrection, either. That is why he made it his mission in life to oppose anything having to do with Jesus the Nazarene. So, with the authority of the chief priests (who were now opposing him), Paul went about hunting down Christians and locking them up. Not only that, Paul participated in their execution by casting his vote for their death. He went from city to city looking for Christians. Not only that, when he arrested them, he did his best to force them to deny their beliefs.
With everything Paul had said, I am curious if those gathered there, really wanted to understand why the Jews hated Paul so much.If they did, they needed to listen to Paul, who had been just like them in the past. In fact, Paul was even more violently opposed to Christians than they are. By knowing what Paul once was, they can understand his opponents. They are what Paul was, not so many years ago.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Story of Acts