Saul had to flee from Damascus to Jerusalem. We know from Saul’s own account in Galatians that this visit to Jerusalem lasted for just over a fortnight (Gal. 2:18). The Galatians passage also tells us why Saul wanted to go to Jerusalem – he wanted to meet Peter.
Saul would have anticipated a welcome because he would have thought that information about what he was doing in Damascus would have reached the ears of the apostles. Yet he discovered that the apostles had not heard about the change in his life. Instead of welcoming him, they were suspicious of him and afraid of him. This was the case despite his eager determined efforts to join them.
Saul here shows a very healthy sign of spiritual life – he wanted to be with the disciples of Jesus. Despite his many spiritual gifts he recognised the necessity of being a member of a congregation of Christians, if possible. Before his conversion, he would have wanted to be with the leading men of the city. Now he preferred the company of the despised followers of Jesus of Nazareth.
Saul would have so much to ask Peter, yet it seemed that his visit to Jerusalem was going to be a waste of time. Whatever Saul may have thought about the circumstances, once again he discovered that God had a man to help his future servant. At the time of his conversion, God had brought Ananias into his life; now at a moment of crisis, when the apostles did not seem ready to accept that Saul could be a genuine Christian leader, the Lord brought Barnabas into Saul’s life.
Barnabas was aware of the great change in Saul’s life. Yet how important it was that he be in Jerusalem at the very time Saul needed him. We might think from Luke’s account that Barnabas introduced Saul to the eleven apostles. In fact, he only met two of them – Peter and James, the Lord’s brother (Gal. 2:18-19). From James, Saul would have gleaned information about the life of Jesus before he began his public ministry, and from Peter he would obtained information about the three years of Jesus’ public ministry. So the Lord provided Saul with all the information he needed about the activities of Jesus.
During that fortnight, Saul mixed with the disciples in Jerusalem and witnessed about Jesus to the Greek-speaking Jews – some of them would have been his former friends when he worshipped in their synagogues. Now he so infuriated them that they determined to kill him. Perhaps he had gone to them with hopes of their conversion. Instead the opposite had happened. They wanted nothing to do with him. This too is a common experience for new believers in the first years of their discipleship.
The disciples in Jerusalem decided it would be best if Saul went home to Tarsus for a while. In fact, he would be there about ten years before Barnabas would come looking for him to help in the church in Antioch. Of course, it was God who sent him there. Saul may have wondered how he would yet fulfil the calling God had for him. God often leaves his most devoted followers blind as to how he will work out his plans for their lives. What they have to do is wait on his time.
But Barnabas saw enough in that few days that he never forgot the kind of man that Saul was. This is a reminder to us, especially when we are new Christians, that we don’t know who is observing us and what the future effects might be of our current devotion to the Lord. If Barnabas had not been there at that time and if Barnabas had not seen what he saw in Saul, then Saul might have remained an unknown Christian living in Tarsus.
The final thing to note is that God eventually sent Saul home to Tarsus so that he could tell his family about what had happened to him. Eventually he would have had to do this, and so will every disciple. God may not ask you to do it immediately because you may be like Saul, away from them. But he will want you to do it eventually and will arrange circumstances for it to happen.