Betrayal. Passion. Defiance. Violence. An obsessed persecutor transformed. And the world would never be the same.
Mining clues sprinkled throughout Paul’s writings, Jerry B. Jenkins weaves a thoroughly believable tale filled with high drama at every turn. This inventive, page-turning novel is steeped in bravado and bloodshed, conflict and deep devotion, romance and political maneuvering. The result is a can’t-put-it-down thriller crafted to satisfy any curious observer’s longing to meet a flesh-and-blood-man whose mission and message ultimately triggered the end of the great Roman Empire.
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A Novel of the Apostle Paul
By Jerry B. Jenkins, James S. MacDonald
Worthy Publishing GroupCopyright © 2015 Jerry B. Jenkins and James S. MacDonald
All rights reserved.
THREE WEEKS EARLIER OUTSIDE DAMASCUS
FROM THE MEMOIR OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE
I never referred to the stoning of Stephen as murder, because even standing close enough to hear the blows that tore his flesh did not weaken my belief that we had carried out the judgment of God Himself.
A student of the Scriptures, I knew the sin of putting another god before the one true God. The Jesus-followers had the audacity to elevate that common carpenter to the position of a Christ, the Messiah. And even though this Stephen had been able to conjure some of the same miracles, he had also proved merely mortal in the end.
Now would they worship their new leader, the uneducated fisherman Peter, who may not have had the silver tongue of Stephen but was convincing enough to persuade thousands to become followers of The Way? Or would they revere Peter's brother James, or the other James among them—one of the brothers of Jesus? Perhaps the new favorite would be young John, who apparently everyone agreed had been Jesus' favorite.
It didn't matter to me. I had undertaken a new assignment with complete confidence that I served as an agent of God. It also raised my stature with the chief priests and most of the rest of the Sanhedrin. Most, because some agreed with my old mentor, Rabbi Gamaliel, who felt the council had overreacted in the matter of Stephen. Gamaliel tried to reason with me, but his advice fell on deaf ears. He had lost my respect. I felt no need of his approval, as I had for so many years.
I admit, however, that the death of Stephen did not have the effect on the people of The Way that I expected. Continuing to insist that Jesus had resurrected from the dead, they referred to Stephen as their first martyr. Rather than cowering in fear of the same fate for themselves, some expressed envy that Stephen had been privileged to be persecuted for Jesus' sake!
His violent death seemed to have discouraged no one from stepping up to replace him—neither the young men of the sect nor even their mothers. Within days of his burial, dozens of devout believers seemed determined to take his place. Their new leaders were bolder, their proclamations louder, their resolve more intense. Even worse, they now began traveling to distant lands to expand the influence of their lies and subversion.
The daily tasks I had handled for Nathanael for years, challenging as they had been, held little interest for me anymore. I took personally the failure of the Sanhedrin to hinder the burgeoning growth of The Way. I had gotten a taste of blood, and I liked it. But this was not violence for violence's sake; rather it was the purest form of justice. Arresting, imprisoning, and killing these people were the only ways to stop the spread of apostasy.
Caiaphas, the high priest, made me his special assistant, with all the power and authority of his office, telling me, "I want The Way driven from Jerusalem. You have proven yourself able and committed."
I was eager to get started. "I will proudly bear your authority, but I need men, weapons, horses."
Caiaphas said, "Consider it done."
Imagine how pleased I was the next morning when a complement of brawny horsemen arrived, every one about twice my size, yet fully understanding who was in charge. For several weeks, I led my men on daily raids before sunrise, surrounding houses owned by Jesus' wealthy followers. We stormed every entrance, denouncing them in the name of God, whipping any who tried to flee, binding them and tethering them to our horses to be dragged off to prison.
I was infused with righteous anger, a godly hatred of these opponents of the Scriptures. My team and I were merciless, swift, and brutal. Fear in the eyes of my prisoners or pleading on the parts of mothers not to separate them from their children had no effect on me. I had been born for this, schooled and trained for this, uniquely equipped for the task.
The fact was I enjoyed it. I was not a tyrant to gain power for its own sake. I was enforcing the will of God. What could be a higher calling? I even told Gamaliel, "I feel alive, fulfilled, as if I am living life to the fullest, defending and glorifying the name of the Lord." My goal was to do anything contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. I cast my votes for many death sentences in Israel and other cities.
Learning that many of The Way had scattered into Judea and Samaria and as far as Damascus, I went again to Caiaphas, breathing threats and murder against them. I asked for a letter of introduction to the synagogues of Damascus. "Any disciples of Jesus I find there, men or women, I will bring to Jerusalem in chains."
This seemed to please the high priest. "Damascus is outside Roman law," he said, "so you will encounter no restrictions."
He supplied me with the letters, and my band of enforcers and I lit out for the great walled city about 135 miles north of Jerusalem. On horseback for the better part of four days, we traveled the way of the Sea of Galilee, crossing the Jordan River by bridge a few miles north of the Dead Sea. My excitement built as we neared Kaukab, about twelve miles south of Damascus.
I pointed into the distance where the road rose to a slight ridge. "The wall will appear on the horizon as we clear that incline, but don't be misled. The city is still almost half a day's journey from there."
I had slowed my great black mount as the sun reached its apex and we neared the crest, when suddenly we were struck by a light so bright it made my horse rear and emit a piercing whinny. I held fast to the reins as I slid from his back, my full weight hanging from the leather straps several feet off the ground. I had just enough presence of mind to let go so I wouldn't pull him over backward and kill him.
The other horses and men cried out as they, too, crashed to the ground. I hit hard and the breath rushed from my lungs. I lay there, eyes shut tight, face pressed into the dirt, but even that did no good against the sudden brilliance that radiated not just from above but also from all around me.
I heard men struggling to their feet and trying to calm their steeds. I fought to move but lay rigid with fear. Suddenly a loud voice implored in Hebrew, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"
Astounded I could find utterance, I moaned, "Who are you, Lord?"
"I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting."
In that instant my world changed. I had believed with my entire being that Jesus had been an impostor and now was dead. There was no time to wonder, to question, to make sense of what was happening. Jesus Himself had clearly spoken to me. The light was the light of God, and it permeated my soul.
I said, "What shall I do, Lord?"
"Rise and stand, for I have appeared to you to make you a minister and a witness both of the things you have seen and of the things I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins. Now go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things that are appointed for you to do."
I struggled to my feet as the men came to my aid. "Did you see that?" I said, unable to control my shuddering.
"Yes! We were scared to death. The horses are still spooked."
"Did you hear the voice?"
"Yes, but we saw no one!"
"It spoke to me, the voice of God. I must get to Damascus with all haste, but I cannot see!"
Two led me by the hand and helped me remount my horse, but the big animal skittered and stutter-stepped and I could feel in the reins his shaking his head. "Hold on tight," one said. "We will lead him slowly."
Several hours later the sounds of the city told me we had arrived.
"Where should we take you, Saul?"
"To the home of Judas on the street called Straight."CHAPTER 2
I had never before prayed as I did at Judas' house on the street called Straight. I sat blindly on the floor of the bedchamber, murmuring deep penance and rocking in the heat of the sunlight streaming through the window.
Earlier that day on the road into the great walled city I had come face-to-face with Christ Jesus, whom I had persecuted with all that was in me. I moaned, my spirit wracked with sobs, tears forcing their way past the oozing sores. My quivering fingers traced great crusty coverings over both eyes. "Oh, God, forgive me! Cleanse me! Create in me a clean heart like David of old. Make me a man after Your own heart."
Judas laid a hand gently on my shoulder and whispered urgently that I should eat, balancing in my lap a plate of steaming meat and vegetables.
I continued, "Be merciful to me, a sinner ..."
"At least sip some wine, Saul. You must. I'll leave it here."
I left the pungent food and drink untouched.
Late that day, my supplications turned to every praise I could remember from the Psalms.
Outside the wide wooden door, I heard Judas plead with someone to leave me alone. One of the men from my detail, obviously speaking to his superior, said, "You will not have to answer for returning without him, sir. As it is, we'll likely have to put down his steed."
My horse? Why?
It had not been lost on me that my superior, the vice chief justice of the Sanhedrin, had issued me a colossal black stallion that allowed me to tower over my troops. Each man was at least a head taller than I and weighed much more, but they all reported to me. I'd had to leap just to reach the four-horned saddle, but I loved being astride that enormous horse.
"Why?" Judas whispered. "What's wrong with the animal?"
"You can see for yourself. But if the stable man's not paid by tonight ..."
"I'll pay him and let Saul decide when he's up and about."
"How long before we're able to get him back to Jerusalem?"
"The man is blind, sir!"
"But can he travel?"
"That is not for me to say."
As footsteps approached, I fell to my face on the floor and cried out, "Jesus, I praise You, Son of the living God, slain to take away the sins of the world, now risen!"
"There's our answer," my man said. "He's mad."
"I told you," another said. "It was a spell, a seizure."
"That's for those at the Temple to decide."
All I knew was that I would never return to Jerusalem in the same role I had left it. Whether I would regain my sight, I neither knew nor cared. God had found me. Christ had changed me. Jesus had made Himself known to me. Able to see nothing else, I saw myself for who I was.
Three days hence, Ananias and I were brought together by God, my sight and strength were restored, and I immediately began preaching Christ and Him crucified to both the believers and the Jews in Damascus. All who heard were amazed and said, "Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?"
Though I had been a scholar from my youth and knew the Scriptures almost wholly from memory, I felt clumsy holding forth on an entirely new topic in the synagogues and in private homes with gatherings of followers of The Way. Besides having to convince them that I was not a fraud, merely trying to ingratiate myself in order to turn the tables on them and arrest them en masse, I was suddenly preaching sermons diametrically opposed to what I had espoused for two decades.
Passionate and earnest as I was, I found myself stumbling over my words as I gushed with all my evidence and proofs, rolling the sacred scrolls this way and that, feverishly pointing out every prophecy I could remember that pointed to the promised Messiah. "He was to come from the lineage of David, be born of a virgin in Bethlehem, called Immanuel ..." I went on and on, thrilling the believers with the fact that Jesus met all these criteria, and clearly alarming the Jews.
I glanced up at my listeners as I paced about, referring to the scrolls and then interspersing my personal story, recounting my credentials, my training, my devotion to God, my commitment—just weeks before—to persecuting the very people I now strove to encourage or win over to my side of the argument.
In the eyes of the followers of The Way I saw both the hope that I was genuine and suspicion that I might not be. Could it be true? their expressions seemed to say. Dare we embrace this man whose dark reputation preceded him? In the Jews I saw anger and sometimes more—resentment? Worse?
Gradually, as I knew more and more of the brothers and sisters—as the believers were wont to refer to each other—they seemed to embrace me as one of their own. Yet, every day I wondered when I might hear of a band sent from the Sanhedrin to transport me back to the Temple.
Mostly I devoted myself to prayer and whatever God wanted to teach me. I felt like a newborn calf in a pasture of cows. All I had were passion and enthusiasm. I knew what I knew and was eager to persuade, yet I also wanted to grow and mature.
What would my family make of this? I could hardly conceive of it. My sister, Shoshanna, and her husband, Ravid, had a son and three daughters, but they had moved back to Tarsus soon after I had begun making a name for myself persecuting followers of The Way. My parents had both fallen ill and, proud as they were of me, said they wanted to spend their final years back at home too. To my shame, I had not kept up with them as I should have.
I had once heard from my sister that they had taken a turn for the worse, and she included a personal letter from the local rabbi. If my work brought me close to my childhood home, Rabbi Daniel informed me, the congregation would welcome me as the hero I was. He wrote,
Reports of your great work on behalf of the Temple only confirm what your family and I and your many friends here in the congregation at Tarsus have known of you since your childhood. Continue making us proud and do come and see us, should the opportunity ever present itself.
In my pride I had responded with a generous donation to the Tarsus temple and a formal expression of gratitude I had grandly dictated to an amanuensis with beautiful handwriting on expensive parchment, which I had him roll and seal with the mark of Nathanael, the vice chief justice.
Shoshanna wrote me back.
While Rabbi Daniel is impressed, as you clearly knew he would be (along with most of the people of the congregation), you must know that your dear father and mother would have appreciated even more some personal message. While your garish parchment is now on conspicuous display at the synagogue, your parents remain chiefly unable to attend except on their best days and yearn only for the unlikely possibility of seeing you once more before they pass.
I don't mind that their care has fallen to me, Saul, I truly do not. It is a privilege to honor parents who were as good to me as they were to you. But if you must know the truth, as successful as Father's business was, rabbinical school, not to mention moving a family from Tarsus to Jerusalem and back, depleted any excess. If you have drachmas to spare, perhaps consider sharing the wealth within the family.
Imagine my pique. Admired, respected, even bowed to on the street by most in Jerusalem, I was gushed over by my childhood rabbi and those who had attended synagogue with me. But what did I hear from my own parents? Nothing. They were sick, fine, and that troubled me. But if I could dictate a letter, why couldn't they?
And my own sister scolding me? Wouldn't most siblings be proud of a brother who had risen to such heights?
My response had been to not respond at all. At times I wavered and hoped nothing would happen to either of my parents. But I assumed someone, the rabbi if no one else, would give me fair warning if either truly began to fail.
In my anger I could have sent Shoshanna a gift that would have made her feel small for having asked. I had the means, and because I had not married, my needs and expenses were few. All I desired was respect, and if it was not forthcoming from my family, I got plenty from my colleagues and the citizens of Jerusalem.
Naturally the memory of that ugly self-righteousness sickened me now that I had become a believer, and I craved the opportunity to make things right. I prayed it wasn't too late, but I didn't dare risk revealing my whereabouts to the authorities by sending written messages. Sadly, the news of my conversion to Christ would be a far greater offense to my family than appearing to have become an ingrate in adulthood.
No, if word had already reached them of what I was suspected of now, the parchment would have long disappeared from the wall of the local synagogue. My parents would have been disgraced and surely disowned me. A missive in my own hand would be rejected, even if they knew it to contain a generous contribution to the family coffer. They would not see me as one who had discovered the long-awaited Messiah. I would not be considered even a Jew anymore, let alone a Pharisee. I would be seen as a traitor, a heretic, apostate, anathema, an abomination.
Not welcome in the home of my youth, I'd feel as if I had never been born.
One afternoon while I was praying about what I would impart to a group of believers in a Damascus home that evening, a young boy from the stables arrived to tell me the owner wanted me to come and see about my horse. I followed him to find the stable man demanding, "Either take the beast, pay more, or I'll be forced to put him out of his misery."
He led me to the back, where I would not have recognized the animal except for his saddle draped over the rail. The once-magnificent mount, which had stood head high, ebony coat shining, now shifted warily, eyes wide, hide faded. His ribs protruded, and a wood bucket full of feed proved his lack of appetite.
Excerpted from Empire's End by Jerry B. Jenkins, James S. MacDonald. Copyright © 2015 Jerry B. Jenkins and James S. MacDonald. Excerpted by permission of Worthy Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part One: Called,
2. Narrow Escape,
3. The First Miracle,
4. Still Small Voice,
5. The Presence of the Divine,
Part Two: Set Aside,
9. The Discovery,
10. The Vision,
12. The Horror,
Part Three: Sent,
13. Setting Off,
14. The Cypriot,
17. The Watchman,
18. The Brother,
20. The Slave,
22. The Ache,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a beautifully written biblical story about Paul the Apostle. It goes from his early years as a hater of God and Jesus as the messiah to when he learns to believe that Jesus is the messiah. Much of this probably came from Mr. Jenkins mind but it seems like it all could have happened just this way. I hope to read many more books by Jerry B. Jenkins. I received this book from first look for a fair and honest opinion.
If you want to know what happens when you blend years of extraordinary novel writing with a gripping subject matter of perhaps the world's most influential human being (Saul of Tarsus/the Apostle Paul), read "Empire's End," by Jerry Jenkins. Jenkins has woven actual Scripture passages into much of the dialogue so skillfully that unless you are extremely familiar with the Bible, you might miss them and just assume they are part of Jenkins' page-turning fertile imagination. Where he inserts creative possibilities regarding the details of Paul's life, I found myself (as a former seminarian) thinking, "Even though the Bible is silent on the details of those particular matters, they actually could have happened that way." This historical novel fleshes out the Biblical facts by creatively combining historical data with with a touching love story that makes the great Apostle come to life. In the midst of it all, Jenkins keeps the focus on Jesus Christ and how God the Son lived His life through such a willing, committed vessel as the Apostle Paul. I was informed, inspired, and challenged to emulate the godly lives that Jenkins sprinkles throughout the book in such a winsome manner. This book is some of Jenkins' best work, and that's saying a lot. You will find the well-crafted Empire's End a pleasure to read and be inspired at the same time. Bravo!