IT WAS a well-armed troop of men that marched briskly through the streets of Jerusalem one bright morning in the year A.D. 34. Their destination was the city of Damascus, 150 miles away. Unless something unforeseen occurred, they would reach there within a week’s time. Then woe betide the men and women they sought … those betrayers of the Law of Moses and the Prophets, who declared that the Messias had already come in the person of a poor carpenter from Nazareth.
“Death to every one of them!” muttered the leader of the troop, Saul—a small, wiry man in his early thirties, whose dark eyes flashed vengefully. Yes, death to all who followed the Nazarene. And before death—imprisonment, torture, starvation …
“Look, sir!” cried a young soldier suddenly, pressing forward on Saul’s right as the group passed through the Damascus Gate at the north end of the city. “Over there, by the side of the road!”
Saul shaded his eyes from the brilliant sunshine, and for an instant a satisfied smile played about his mouth. Plainly visible in the open countryside was a freshly turned mound of earth. At this place a few days ago a raging mob had stoned to death a young man who persisted in declaring that the Nazarene, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, was the Promised One of Israel.
“One fool less, isn’t it, sir?”
Saul’s eyes were grim. “There are still plenty left, especially in Damascus.”
The young soldier smiled confidently. “But we’ll stone them, too, sir. And bury them all in a common grave. Then our troubles will be over.”
Saul laughed harshly and pointed to a black leather lash curled like a snake about his arm. “You make it too easy. The ones we take prisoner at Damascus must have a slower death than stoning. They must be flogged before friends and neighbors, then marched in chains to Jerusalem for sentence.”