September 7, 2014

Superhero Theology III: The Apostle Flash

This post is probably the most extensively researched post of the nearly 1300 I have written for SoulJournaler. The sheer magnitude of searching Scripture to trace about 20 to 30 years of Paul's life after his conversion was insane. What follows in this post is the biblical travelogue of the Apostle Flash, er…eh, the Apostle Paul. What I have come to realize is that Paul was relentless and tireless in his spreading of the Gospel. He traveled more on behalf of the Gospel two-thousand years ago than most of us would be willing to travel today even with the vehicles we have at our disposal.

At the point of Paul's conversion, Paul is literally flashed or singed by God to get his attention and get him to convert. It is the Damascus Road experience. 

Acts 9:3 ~ “As Saul was coming near the city of Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him.”

It is ironic that Paul's conversion was on a road. Besides the Lord, it will be roads that will be Paul's constant companions for the remainder of his life. Paul rambled on for the Gospel both verbally and physicallyAfter Paul’s conversion which pretty much came on him like a flash of lightning, it is as if Paul can’t get where he’s going fast enough most of the time. Paul’s normal modus operandi or choice of movement is usually in haste. He is a man on a mission... literally. He was on missionary journeys. He’s here and then he’s there. He is crisscrossing the Mediterranean area like the superhero that Jesus made him into. Paul literally became an evangelizing lightning bolt. Paul made three missionary journeys not to mention his desire to go as far as Spain to evangelize to the "ends of the earth". The Scriptures abound with statements of Paul’s travels.

Galatians 1:17-19 ~ “…nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother.

Acts 11:26 ~ “…and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”

These are just the beginnings of Paul’s travels. The towns and cities he will pass through will boggle the imagination in their number and demographic distinctions. Considering he does it on foot while being incarcerated and beaten is even more profound. The endurance needed to maintain Paul's travel and abuse schedule has to have had supernatural strengthening involved. 

Paul’s first journey sees him set out from Antioch and he passes through Seleucia and then sails to Cyprus. From there he and his companions went to Salamis and Paphos where Paul met Bar-Jesus the sorcerer. (Acts 13:4-6). They then sail to Perga in Pamphylia, which is now southern Turkey. It is at this point Paul parts ways with Mark and Mark returns to Jerusalem.

Next up is Antioch in Pisidia which is not to be confused with the one Paul started out from in Syria. Paul and Barnabas turn their evangelistic efforts to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46). Paul then turns to Iconium, where they actually slow down a little and stay a "long time" (Acts 14:3). It is then on to Lystra, where Paul is stoned but lives (Acts 14:19), and then Derbe. Paul then doubles-back through Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch in Pisidia again (Acts 14:21) in a sort of spiritual geographic hiccup. Paul and Barnabas then went throughout Pisidia, Pamphylia, then to Perga, Attalia, and sailed back to Antioch in Syria (Acts 14:24-26)…thus ends Paul’s first missionary journey.

The second journey begins and Paul takes Silas through Syria and Cilicia or what is now southeastern Turkey. They came to Derbe and Lystra where they find Timothy who goes with Paul and Silas throughout Phrygia and Galatia. They’re forbidden by the Spirit to go enter Asia or Bithynia but do eventually end up passing through Mysia, Troas, the island of Samothracia, and Neapolis in Macedonia. It is at Philippi, God opens the heart of Lydia and the Philippian jailer through the Gospel (Acts 16:14-34). Passing through Amphipolis and Appolonia, they came to Thessalonica, where Paul taught for 3 weeks. After teaching some in Berea, Paul departed ahead of Silas and Timothy and refocused southward into Achaia and to Athens (Acts 17:14-15). Paul then makes his first visit to Corinth where he stays an entire year and a half (Acts 18:1- 11). Perhaps it was burnout from being on the road? It is there, Paul met Aquila and Priscilla, who had just come from Rome, from which Claudius Caesar had banished all Jews. It is now that Silas and Timothy rejoin Paul. First and Second Thessalonians was written from here in about 52 AD (1 Thessalonians 3:1-6).

Paul then leaves by boat with Aquila and Priscilla to Cenchrea. From there they cross the Aegean Sea to Ephesus. Aquila and Priscilla stay there, which is where they would later meet Apollos (Acts 18:19-26). Paul sails on to Caesarea and then Antioch in Syria where his second journey ends.

Paul’s third journey begins in Galatia and Phrygia (Acts 18:23). Paul arrives at Ephesus where he stayed for 3 years (Acts 20:31). Paul meets the disciples of John the Baptist there. He preaches in the synagogue for three months (Acts 19:8). He disputes every day in the school of Tyrannus for 2 years (Acts 19:9-10). It is from these efforts that the Bible tells us that all that dwelt in Asia heard the Gospel. Although Paul sends Timothy and Erastus ahead into Macedonia, Paul stays on in Asia for a “season” (Acts 19:22). It is at this point Paul foresaw his route of travel for the next four years in Acts 19:21-22.

At some point Paul had rejoined Timothy. I personally couldn't verify where. Paul had come to Troas and continued to Macedonia where he was joined by Titus. This seems to agree with Acts 20:1. After going through Macedonia, Paul came to Achaia where he stayed 3 months (Acts 20:2-3) and he makes his third visit to Corinth. It is clear that Romans was written at this time (Romans 15:23-26 and 1 Corinthians 16:1-3). Paul then doubles-back again to Macedonia (Acts 20:1) and Philippi (Acts 20:6). Paul and companions sailed to Troas, where a young man fell out of a window, and Paul raises him from the dead (Acts 20:7-12). Then Paul goes on a six city tour to Assos, Mitylene, Chios, Samos, Trogylium, and Miletus. It is then on to Cos by boat, Rhodes, Patara, and then they pass the south side of Cyprus and come to Tyre (Lebanon) where they stayed one week. They go south to Ptolemais and to Caesarea where they stayed many days (Acts 21:10).

The third journey ends at Jerusalem where Paul is beaten by Jews when he preaches to them (Acts 22:1-21) and is brought before the Sanhedrin. Jesus Christ tells Paul that he will go to bear Him witness in Rome. Paul is taken to Governor Felix at Caesarea. Paul then spends 2 years in prison in Caesarea in Judea. When the reign of Portius Festus begins, Paul appeals to Caesar (Acts 25:11). After Herod Agrippa II hears Paul…Paul’s journey as a prisoner traveling to Rome begins in earnest. As a prisoner Paul and his guard sail to Sidon with Luke and Aristarchus (Acts 27:1-2) on the way to Italy. They sail to Myra and then Lasea on large island of Crete. In the Autumn of approximately 60 AD, they reached Melita, a small island south of Sicily. Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake but survives. Paul healed the father of Publius and others. Paul, still a prisoner, spends the winter on the island with his captors.

In the spring, they sail to Syracuse (Sicily), then to Rhegium or the tip of Italy. From there they go to Puteoli. It is then that they reach Rome and Paul spends 2 years in his own house (Acts 28:30) as a prisoner in Rome. It is during this period that Paul manages to convert guards, members of Caesar’s household and also found time he write Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon....just in case you thought he might be slacking off.

After Paul’s imprisonment in Rome it appears that Paul had further journeys. He also wrote the epistles of Titus, First Timothy, and Second Timothy, and possibly Hebrews. There are assorted other clues and hints to Paul’s other travels outside of the ones mentioned that include possible locations such as Colossae, Spain, Corinth (additional  times), Miletus, Troas, Crete, Nicopolis, Philippi (again), Italy, Judea, Ephesus, and Macedonia. This allows for the possibilities that Paul traveled to more diverse places that the Bible doesn't even mention. Since it is nearly impossible to reconstruct the other travels I will only mention them below. They are not in any type of order, they are merely Scriptural mentioning of them.

In Philemon 22, Paul foresaw his release and tells those in Colossae to prepare him lodging. In Romans 1:10, 15:24-28, and 16:1- 5 Paul speaks of aspirations of eventually going to Spain. Did he ever do this in his final years? The bible doesn’t say. After being released from the prison in Rome, Paul went to Corinth and Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20), Troas (2 Timothy 4:13), Crete (Titus 1:5), and Nicopolis for the winter (Titus 3:12).

If Paul wrote Hebrews it was apparently written from Italy (Hebrews 13:24). Timothy had been released from prison (Hebrews 13:23) and was coming to Paul. Paul was apparently at liberty as well, since they planned to then go to visit the Hebrews. Paul told Timothy to stay and teach in Ephesus when he went to Macedonia (1 Timothy 1:3).

So…like I said about Paul…after his dramatic conversion, he was everywhere and anywhere. He was wherever the Lord called Him to be and about the Lord's business. The theological point is quite simple. We are commanded to preach the Gospel and take it to the ends of the earth. Paul, a man that is essentially hit by a divine lightning bolt acted likewise...just like a lightning bolt. He struck and moved on, struck and moved on. The man literally became the medium by which he was converted. A bolt of lightning. He was nearly always on the Roman roads preaching the Gospel. He flashed to and fro across the Asian and European continents spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. At times he was inexhaustible and unflagging just as one would expect from a man given superhuman support to move quickly and mightily for the Lord. I can only pray we do the same.

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