From last week...
Saul even told them where Stephen and some others would meet in the morning on the first day of the week to celebrate the rising of this Jesus from the dead. The rough group of men stayed up all night, drinking more and more, getting more and more agitated. Then just before dawn, they headed out to the Mount of Olives and stoned Stephen to death while the others scattered. Saul watched their cloaks while the whole thing went down.
The Sanhedrin was pleased. It advanced Saul politically. Now the Sanhedrin knew they had someone they could trust to help stop this Jesus movement. They had chastised the Aramaic speaking believers, who met regularly at the temple. But it was hard to get at them because they had a lot of support and were always out in plain view. They also were fairly peaceful. Their emerging leader, James, actually preached faithfulness to the Law, and a number of Pharisees had even joined the movement.
The story was different with the Greek-speaking followers like Stephen. They were much more vocal and seditious. But soon Saul had so disrupted the Greek-speaking Jews that a good many of them left Jerusalem. For a few weeks, the Sanhedrin thought their problem was solved--until they found out that these Jesus followers were simply preaching around the Judean--even the Samaritan countryside.
For over a year Saul went around Judea, mostly as a spy, watching these followers of the Way. He would report back what they were teaching, and how many converts they made to their cause. He especially tried to follow a Hellenist named Philip, but he seemed to disappear every time Saul got close. In all this time Saul rarely saw his wife. All he could think about was his own advancement.
What he didn't realize is that the message of these believers was sinking into his subconscious. This Jesus had preached that everyone could be part of the coming kingdom. Look at how many people were joining this movement. He had enough of Gamaliel in his head to wonder if it could be of God. Was he really on the right side?
No! It couldn't be. He was a law-keeper. God commanded that all Jews keep the Law. He had spent his whole life pursuing the Law. He had kept it blamelessly. He didn't know anyone in his family or close friends who kept the Law as well as he did. He was zealous for the law like a Maccabee!
He dove into his work even harder. Three years after the beginning of the Jesus movement, in the nineteenth year of the reign of Claudius, he thought he had another break. He asked the Sanhedrin to send him to Damascus, in the Roman province of Syria, to investigate some Jesus followers from the Essene movement. He had heard they were forming an army of some sort, with one of Jesus' original followers leading them, a man named Simon.
The Sanhedrin was able to get a letter from Pontius Pilate, then in his seventh year as governor. Saul would take it to Flaccus, then the governor of Syria. This letter would allow Saul to arrest any seditious followers of the Way and bring them back to Jerusalem for examination...