The Revelation Years
But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days.
For three years Paul did not confer with flesh and blood regarding his experience. On the backside of the desert, Paul received revelation knowledge from the Lord Jesus Himself. This occurred partially through visitations of the exalted Lord, and partially through the person of the Holy Spirit. God was unfolding to Paul the message of the New Covenant. Hidden and tucked away in the pages of the Old Testament were the glorious truths of the New. Like no other apostle, Paul was able to extract these weighty revelations from the Law and the Prophets.
Revelation knowledge is a prerequisite to apostleship. Without it, one only has book knowledge , which is incapable of destroying the yokes of bondage. Paul had such powerful revelation that at times he would refer to the gospel as “my gospel.”
In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel. (Romans 2:16)
Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel… (Romans 16:25)
Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel. (2 Timothy 2:8)
When Paul went up to Jerusalem, fourteen years after his conversion, he was confident in the revelation God had given him. His apostleship had covered four years and his first missionary journey (Acts chapters 13 and 14). Paul wrote, that there was nothing that the apostles at Jerusalem could add to his revelation:
But from those who seemed to be something—whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man—for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me.
Separation To Apostleship
Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.
Paul received his separation to apostleship some ten years after his conversion (AD 45). Up to this point he had been functioning in the office of prophet and teacher. The call to apostleship was always there but the time for separation to that call hadn’t arrived. It is almost certain that Paul had revelation of this calling, but he did not take the office upon himself without divine order. Part of divine order is confirmation from the Body.
This is likened unto David in the Old Testament. David was anointed King by the prophet Samuel (I Sam. 16), yet Saul still stood in the office of King. David had opportunity to kill Saul and usurp the throne, but he would not take the throne without divine order. In fact, it was many years before David was made King over Israel. Those years were full of suffering and misunderstanding. But through it all God made that little shepherd boy into a King. After Saul’s death, the private anointing that took place so many years prior was made public by the confirmation of the people: And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah (II Sam. 2:4a).
When was David King? Was it at God’s anointing or the people’s anointing? The first may be seen as calling, the latter separation. Did God one day decide to make Paul an apostle, or was he predestined from his mother’s womb? Paul answers that question in his epistle to the Galations:
Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father… But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace… (Galations 1:1, 15).
The calling to apostleship most likely was revealed to Paul in the early years when he was in Arabia receiving revelation from Jesus for the space of three years (Gal. 1:16-18). However, as with David, that call needed time for development and confirmation. When the Holy Ghost spoke at Antioch it was in the presence of all the church leadership. Upon receiving this message, the church at Antioch confirmed Paul and Barnabas’ apostolic calling and laid hands upon them: and when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away (Acts 13:3). Thus, apostolic calling requires confirmation from church leadership, even more so than any other ministry. If one has received the call, he must humble himself under God’s mighty hand until the due season of confirmation and separation (see I Pet. 5:6).
Next we will look at Paul’s missionary journeys.