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Jesus says that when he returns different things will happen with regards to the events of the last days . In Matthew 24:26 it says if someone claims to have seen him in the wilderness, not to believe this report for it is not him. Does Paul’s Damascus conversion violate this principle?

Matthew 24:26

"So , if they say to you, 'Look, he is in the wilderness,' do not go out". ESV

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    Paul never claimed to have 'seen' Jesus. He heard a voice. And saw a very bright light.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 15, 2023 at 14:10
  • @Bertram I have edited your question. If you do not like what I have done please rearrange it to suit yourself.
    – C. Stroud
    Nov 15, 2023 at 14:29
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    . . . . and the God of Glory 'appeared' to Abraham when he was yet in Mesopotamia. I don't see your point @DanFefferman
    – Nigel J
    Nov 15, 2023 at 14:43
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    That in other cases when Jesus "appeared", Luke 24:34 for instance, there was a seeing. I agree with you that Paul does not say he saw Jesus physically. Nov 15, 2023 at 15:01
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    @DanFefferman If you do not add (at)So-and-so then So-and-so will not be aware you have addressed them . . . . .
    – Nigel J
    Nov 15, 2023 at 19:20

3 Answers 3

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No, Paul's experience with Jesus on the Damascus road does not violate the warning of Mt. 24:2326. The verses in question read:

Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him... So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them.

The warning is not to doubt someone claiming to have seen Jesus per se, but against the claim that Christ has returned and can be seen at a certain place in the physical world. Paul does not say "there he is" or "go out." Indeed he does not even report the Damascus road event himself. It is reported by the narrator of Acts to show how the former persecutor of the church became a believer.

In addition, Paul does not claim to have seen Jesus physically on the road to Damascus. His own statement in Corinthians 15:8 is that Jesus "appeared" to him, not mentioning a specific place. Moreover, as @Nigel pointed out in his comment, the Damascus road appearance involved a bright light and a voice (Acts 9:3-7), not necessarily a physical sighting of Jesus' physical body.

Conclusion: The warning of Matthew 24 is against false prophets at the time of the Second Coming who urge people to go to the place to meet Christ. Paul does no such thing.

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  • Further, it was the unconverted Saul of Tarsus who had this visionary experience (with physical repercussions for himself, then spiritual ones). He would have been ignorant of what Jesus had said prior to his crucifixion about his second coming. The vision Saul was given was to call him to faith in a resurrected Christ, having nothing to do with Christ's return to deal with the world. +1
    – Anne
    Nov 16, 2023 at 17:18
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Jesus delivered more than one message to Paul:

  1. On the Road to Damascus, Acts 9:3-6, 22:6-10, 26:12-18. In all these accounts, Jesus did not "appear" personally but Saul only saw a bright light and heard a voice.
  2. Before the Shipwreck, Acts 27:23. In this case, the message was delivered by "an angel of God" who stood beside Paul. This may not have been Jesus personally.
  3. Appearing to Paul Directly, 1 Cor 15:8. Paul claims that Jesus "appeared to me also" after listed all the other physical sightings of Jesus. Just where and how this occurred is not stated.
  4. Revealing to Paul Directly, Gal 1:12. Here Paul claims

For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but by a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Whether this was the same as #3 above or a different occasion, we are not told. In any case, the fact remains that Paul claimed to have personally seen Jesus.

Does this contract Matt 24:26? Not at all. In Matt 24 Christ is warning about false prophets and false messiahs whom their followers would claim has secretly arrived in some obscure location. Jesus tells us plainly not to be deceived because when Jesus arrives, it will not be secret but described as follows:

Matt 24:30, 31 - At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

Thus, Jesus' warning in Matt 24 is a warning against being deceived by esotericism.

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Contextual Interpretation We have here two different subject matters. When Jesus spoke in the Olivet Discourse, He was giving a warning about Christians being led astray by false prophets who claimed Jesus would reappear in some secret location (to rescue from the coming Roman tribulation). Jesus later revealed that His Second Coming would be a univeral event, not needing any one to tell of it. All would know and experience it, accompanied with cosmic signs and angelic announcements.

Saul's Conversion What Paul referred to was a conversion event, not an appeal to Christians to go do something, or to flee somewhere. His interaction with Christ, visible or visionary, physical or spiritual, was just a personal interaction with a perturbed God who stopped Paul from persecuting Christians.

The contexts of these two different verses allow no contradiction here!

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