Barnabas and Paul returned to Antioch with a sense of triumph. They had left with the salvation of the Gentiles still somewhat of an experiment, a probability given what they had witnessed thus far. But they returned--Paul especially--with it established beyond reasonable doubt. God was going to save those Gentiles who confessed faith in Jesus as Lord and in God's plan through him, and God was going to do it without them needing to become Jews!
Any second guessing of Paul's calling was now gone. He had not had any appreciable success in Arabia. He had some success in Cilicia, but not nearly what he had hoped.
But Cyprus and Asia Minor had changed all that. It was his first dramatic success in the conversion of the Gentiles, especially Sergius Paulus. He had made inroads into the very household of Caesar! He was convinced that God had appointed him as apostle to the Gentiles, just as Peter was the apostle to the Jews.
All this is not to say, however, that everyone agreed. The very notion that he might be on any par with Peter seemed nothing but arrogant boasting to any who got wind of it. After all, Peter was the first disciple and the first to whom Jesus appeared risen.
John Mark had done Paul's reputation great damage when he returned to Jerusalem. He had shared Paul's Gentile-loving ways in whispered and not so whispered conversation. Paul's chummy behavior with a Roman proconsul was all the evidence anyone needed to know that Paul was simply an unprincipaled, power hungry man more full of ambition than with love for God or Israel. What business did a Jew have with such a Roman, the enemies of Israel and, indeed, those who had crucified the Lord Jesus?
Of course for every one who was genuinely outraged, there were two who were really only jealous of the power and status Paul had acquired. They would never be Roman citizens, only outcasts in the eyes of those in power. But Paul simply preached to the Gentiles more vigorously than ever.
After they returned, Paul began to think about new ways to come in contact with Gentiles, more subtle than the public preaching that almost got him killed in Arabia. It occurred to him that one of the elders at Antioch, a man called Silas, was a leatherworker, just like Paul's family back in Tarsus. Silas had a booth in the marketplace, where he sat in the morning and evening, repairing and selling various goods. Paul decided to join him and use the opportunity to bring the good news to any who might listen.
Within a day, he had his first convert, a young man of about twenty, named Titus. Titus introduced Paul to his family and within a few days his entire household became followers of the Way. They were Gentiles through and through and had never set foot in a synagogue.
Those were great days for Paul, in retrospect some of the most delightful of his life. One morning in prayer, soon after Titus' conversion, Paul understood from the Lord that he must go to Jerusalem with Titus, to show him to Peter and James. He and Barnabas would get their approval for the new phase of the gospel that God was now opening up.
They would see he was right. How could they reject Titus? It was obvious that the Holy Spirit was at work in him. God would show them. They would see that his mission to the Gentiles was simply the outworking of Jesus' ministry to sinners within Israel.
Once he had their approval, it would end once and for all the back-stabbing and grumbling about him as well. The assemblies of God would be united in purpose in a way that they had not since the earliest days. It was all so clear to Paul--to Jerusalem they must go!