After Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, he gave a speech about his conversion. “Then Ananias said ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of His voice. For you will be a witness for Him to all people of what you have seen and heard. And now, why delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins by calling on His name. ’
“After I came back to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple complex, I went into a visionary state and saw him telling me, ‘Hurry and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me!’
“But I said, ‘Lord, they know that in synagogue after synagogue I had those who believed in You imprisoned and beaten. And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving, and I guarded the clothes of those who killed him.’
“Then He said to me, ‘Go, because I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”
They listened to him up to this word. Then they raised their voices, shouting, “Wipe this person off the earth—it’s a disgrace for him to live!” (Acts 22:14-22)
Paul hated Christians and the Jesus they followed. Paul was certain that Christians were a danger to the well-being of Jewish society.
But then Paul met Jesus one day and everything changed for him.
But his transformation didn’t stop with his conversion to Christianity. After Paul visited Jerusalem, Jesus told Paul to do something even more unsettling. He told Paul to preach to the gentiles. Most Jews despised gentiles. The word translated “gentiles” literally meant, “the Greeks.” Two hundred years earlier, the Greek king, Antiochus Epiphanes had tried to force the Jews to worship the Greek gods. He had even sacrificed a pig in the Temple. The Jews had revolted and driven the Greeks out. Jesus sent Paul to talk to these very people.
Years later, when Paul shared what Jesus had asked him to do, the reaction of the Jewish mob in Jerusalem that was already angry with him was unsurprisingly negative. The prevailing view among Jewish people of Paul’s time was that the Messiah would wipe out sinners. And who were the sinners? The gentiles. They were not happy to hear that the Messiah loved gentiles.
People often like to hear that God loves people. Until they realize that means not just themselves and those they like, but also their enemies and those they believe they justly hate.