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What happens when a Roman citizen with the world-conquering spirit of Rome is also a Pharisee, a student of the great Gamaliel — and then gets powerfully converted to Christ?
The Letter to the Romans happens. Followed by Western Civilization as we know it.
That’s what Benedictine College theologian Andrew Swafford says in his interview with Jeff Cavins for Ascension Press about the newest Great Adventure Bible Study, Romans: The Gospel of Salvation.
But the interview is itself a great introduction to the first book in the Epistles section of most Bibles.
Paul is writing to the Christians in Rome at the end of his missionary journeys in the late 50s A.D. ”He knows both worlds very very well,” says Swafford. “He knows the Jewish world and he knows the Roman world.”
The Romans believe Caesar is a god-man. They believe he brings the Good News and peace to their world. They call him savior and Lord.
Paul comes right at them.
“Paul knows Jesus is the true king He’s a different kind of king. He conquers with his own blood, not the blade of a sword. He’s going to offer a different kind of peace — a peace that the world cannot give,” Swafford says.
Cavins and Swafford then discuss the four kingdoms prophesied in Daniel, Chapter 2. Nebuchadnezzar dreams of a statue made of four different materials, identified as four kingdoms. These four are: the Babylonian kingdom, represented by gold; the Persians’ silver kingdom; the bronze Greek kingdom and then the fourth kingdom, Rome.
When Daniel interprets the vision he adds another detail: “You saw, O king, and behold, a great image. … As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it smote the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces” (Daniel 2:31;34).
Swafford calls this “the fifth kingdom”:
“This kingdom is the Kingdom of God and it’s this stone cut by no human hand. It’s a divine work that becomes this great mountain. This is why Jews in Jesus’s day were so excited — because people like Josephus said Daniel not only told us about the Messiah but when he would come. They knew they were living in the time of that fourth Gentile Kingdom and that the Kingdom of God would be ushered in.”
When Paul is knocked off his horse on the way to Damascus he meets the fulfillment of those expectations. “He sees it in Jesus Christ as the true king of the world, and the ushering in of the Kingdom of God.”
This strong faith is what allows Paul to preach Christ despite great suffering. “He had this fearlessness about him because he knew that ultimately, Jesus is king and he’s made for another world.”
In the end, the “stone not touched by human hands” did crush the empire.
“But how?” asks Swafford. “The kingdom is crushed by the power of the spoken word, the power of conversion, when these Gentiles come flocking to worship the true king.”
Paul’s belief in Christ the “destroyer of the gods” transformed culture, and can do so again.
In Romans, Swafford says, “you find the Gospel that Paul encountered that took him from this zealous persecutor of the early Christians to a missionary who goes across the globe, across the known world at the time.”