Where the world comes to study the Bible

14. The Conversion of Saul (Acts 9:1-31)

Introduction

Imagine for a moment that this is the week of Saul’s arrival at Damascus.129 By this time Saul has gained a reputation as the ringleader of the movement to make Christianity extinct. A devout Hellenistic Jew, of the tribe of Benjamin, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, Saul was a member of the Pharisees and was taught by none other than Gamaliel, whom we have already met (Acts 5:34-40). Saul did not agree with his teacher, Gamaliel, on how the Christians should be dealt with, however. Rather, he sought the arrest, trial, conviction, and punishment (with imprisonment the norm and death the ideal, it would seem) of those in Jerusalem. His career as a persecutor of Christians seems to have begun with Stephen, but it quickly spread to all of the Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 7:58–8:3). Saul was not content to punish some and to drive the rest from the “holy city.” He did not want to merely contain Christianity or to drive it from Jerusalem; he wanted to rid the earth of Christianity and its followers. Thus, his opposition to Christ and His church took on a “missionary” spirit. Saul went to other cities where he sought to arrest Christians and to bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment. Damascus, a city some 150 miles to the northeast of Jerusalem, was one such city. Word was out that Saul would soon be arriving.

Suppose you were a Christian who had just arrived in Damascus, and you had been able to learn the whereabouts of a group of believers. Let us suppose further that the church had gathered on this particular evening for a time of prayer, prompted by the news that Saul was soon to arrive, with all the necessary legal machinery (that is, the authorization of the chief priests and the Sanhedrin130) to arrest and extradite131 the saints who were in the city. What do you suppose the saints would have prayed at this special prayer meeting? We are given a little insight from the account in Acts 12 when Peter was imprisoned and it appeared he would soon be executed, as James had already been, and as we would infer Herod purposed to do with Peter (Acts 12:1-4). In this occasion, no one seems to have prayed for Peter’s miraculous escape. At least we can say that no one had enough faith to believe it, even as Peter stood at the door, knocking to get in (12:12-17).

I very much doubt anyone prayed that this Saul might be saved. I can believe someone might have prayed that Saul be waylaid, or “terminated,” in some divine act or providential accident (“act of God”). I can believe the saints who gathered to pray would have prayed for the protection of the church in Damascus and for the safety of individual saints, especially the leaders and the most visible Christians. No one, it would seem, was even thinking of what God was about to do. Ananias is not only surprised by his commission; he is resistant to it, at least initially.

There would likely be another group of people meeting on the evening before Saul arrived in Damascus—those who did not believe in Jesus as their Messiah, and who eagerly sought the eradication of the church in their city. Were these people as eager as Saul to destroy the church? Did they send for Saul? Or did they somewhat dread his arrival, knowing how zealous he was in his opposition to the church. If he were viewed as a reactionary, a trouble-maker, perhaps there were some unbelievers who thought Saul was too much trouble. Nevertheless, there must have been those who intended to use Saul’s coming to oppose the church. They may have been attempting to compile a list of known (and even suspected) Christians, along with addresses, to facilitate Saul’s task.

What a shock Saul’s conversion must have been to both groups! To the church, Saul turned out to be a friend, a fellow-believer, in fact, a flaming evangelist, who proclaimed Christ more clearly and powerfully than anyone had previously done in Damascus. The church did not shrink or suffer for Saul’s arrival, but it grew because of it. And the second group, who were waiting for Saul to come and help them deal with the followers of “the Way,” were about to discover that Saul had joined them, perhaps bringing other members of the opposition along with him. Did they think their task would be a simple one? They found that their cause was literally shut down by Saul’s arrival, and the wind was taken out of their sails by his conversion. What can you say about Christianity when its most outspoken and zealous opponent suddenly claims to have seen the risen Christ, and to have trusted in Him as the Messiah?

The importance of Saul’s conversion can hardly be overestimated. Three times in the Book of Acts it is reported, the first time in the third person (“he”) by Luke (Acts 9:1-31), the second time in the first person (“I”) by the apostle, as he spoke to his Jewish unbelieving brethren in defense of his ministry (Acts 22:1-21), and the third time, again in the first person, as his personal testimony to King Agrippa, Festus, and Bernice (Acts 26:1-23). This three-fold repetition is a clear indication of the importance of this event, especially in the themes Luke is seeking to develop in the Book of Acts.

It is not just in the Book of Acts that the importance of Saul’s conversion is evident. On various occasions in his epistles, Paul made either direct or indirect references to his former life of opposition and his radical conversion.132 Paul’s theology, his lifestyle, his ministry, and his methodology, all are rooted in his conversion. This text portrays one of the historical landmarks of the church.

Problems in the Passage

If this passage is profoundly important, it also poses its problems. There are differences between the three accounts given to us in Acts. All of these should be expected and can be rather easily explained. But there is a greater discrepancy between the accounts of Saul’s conversion in Acts and that which Paul gave in Galatians 1. I. Howard Marshall summarizes the problem in these words:

“Nevertheless, we obtain a different impression of things from Galatians 1:16-24, according to which (1) Paul did not confer with men after his conversion nor go to the apostles in Jerusalem, but (2) departed to Arabia and then returned to Damascus; then (3) three years later he went to Jerusalem for a visit lasting a fortnight during which he saw only Peter and James, and at this time he was unknown by sight to the churches of Judea; thereafter (4) he went to Syria and Cilicia. This account is accompanied by an asseveration of its truth which suggests that some people were contradicting it.”133

As I look at the problem, I believe several conclusions must be drawn. First, there are problems which appear to be serious. Second, we are not given enough information in the biblical text to solve them dogmatically. Third, these discrepancies may well have been evident to the writers, who did not see fit to remove or explain every problem. Fourth, if we had all the facts, there would be no problem. Fifth, faith must take the text on face value, as it is written, and believe it as God’s inspired, inerrant, authoritative word.

The Structure of the Passage

The passage which we are studying can be divided into these major segments:

  • Saul’s Arrest—Verses 1-9
  • Convincing Ananias—Verses 10-16
  • Ananias and Saul—Verses 17-19a
  • Saul’s Witness in Damascus—Verses 19b-25
  • Saul’s Witness in Jerusalem—Verses 26-30
  • Peace Returns to the Land—Verse 31

Our Approach

We will begin this lesson by making some general observations concerning this account of Saul’s conversion,134 after which we will examine the sequence of events leading up to Saul’s conversion, the events surrounding his conversion, and the consequences of his conversion as depicted by Luke. We will next seek to learn how this description of Saul’s conversion fits into and contributes to the development of Luke’s argument in Acts. We will also attempt to determine to what degree Saul’s conversion was typical and to what degree it was unique. We shall then seek to identify the characteristics of Saul’s conversion which are typical of every conversion. Finally, we shall attempt to focus on the application of this passage to our own lives.

Overall Observations

The first thing we shall do is to make some observations on the passage as a whole to attempt to see the forest before we scrutinize the trees. Note the following impressions gained from a reflection on the passage as a whole.

(1) There is considerable emphasis given to Saul’s conversion in the Book of Acts. To put it differently, the account of Saul’s conversion in Acts 9 is but the first of three accounts, the other two coming from the lips of Paul himself.

(2) While there is considerable emphasis on the conversion of Saul, there is very little detail given as to the precise time or the details of Saul’s conversion. We do not know the exact time when Saul was saved. It would seem not to be there on the road to Damascus. Here, Saul was only told that it was Jesus whom he saw, who was speaking to him, and whom he was persecuting. The details of what was said and done when Ananias arrived are fuzzy. There is clearly no attempt to establish some kind of pattern or formula for evangelism here, at least as far as methodology is concerned.

(3) Saul’s conversion experience was quick and dramatic in one sense, but it also involved a process, a process of at least three days.135

(4) More space is devoted to the process of getting Ananias to Saul than is devoted to getting Saul to Damascus and to the home of Judas. It almost seems harder to convince Ananias that Saul is (or will be) a Christian than it is to convert Saul.

(5) There is a good deal of emphasis on the results of Saul’s conversion. In fact, more is written of what Saul said and did because he was saved than is written of what he said and did resulting in his salvation.

(6) Little emphasis is placed on Saul’s reception of the Holy Spirit, and nothing is said about what happened as Saul received the Spirit. In our text Ananias was instructed to go to Saul and to lay hands on him so that he might receive his sight (9:12). The words which Ananias spoke to Saul indicate he was also to lay hands on him so that he would receive the Holy Spirit (9:17). In spite of this, we are not told here that Saul did receive the Holy Spirit or what happened when he did. I do not question that he did receive the Spirit, but merely observe that this receiving of the Spirit (accompanied by the laying on of hands) was not something Luke wanted to emphasize. If Luke had any “ax to grind” on this issue, here would have been a great place to stress this matter, but he did not do so. This silence is instructive, in my opinion.

(7) Those who were saved by Saul’s ministry were convinced by the power of the gospel message he preached and not by miraculous signs and wonders. Elsewhere in Acts, such as with the apostles, Stephen and Philip, the message of the gospel was underscored by signs and wonders which accompanied the message. Nothing is said in our text about any miracles being performed by Saul, as yet. We are simply told that the message itself was proclaimed powerfully and that people were amazed at the message and its miraculous impact on Saul’s own conduct.

(8) Saul was saved independently of the apostles. Ananias was used as God’s instrument in the conversion of Saul, but even he had to be pushed to go to Saul. There is not so much as a hint that anyone prayed for Saul’s salvation or took the initiative to bring it about. It was God’s initiative all the way. The apostles had nothing to do with Saul’s conversion, and they were reluctant to believe it had happened or to welcome him into their fellowship. Paul would make much more of this point in the first chapter of Galatians.

(9) On the road to Damascus, Saul did far more than to see a bright light and to hear a voice from heaven. Saul saw and heard the resurrected Christ. When one looks at all the references to this event, it was, in fact, a personal appearance of the risen, glorified Jesus to Saul (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:4-11).

(10) Saul’s encounter with Christ was not only a conversion, but it was also a call to a very specific ministry. Saul was told at the time of his conversion that God had chosen him to bear witness to the Gentiles, to kings, and to the Jews (9:15).

(11) Saul’s conversion was a watershed event which greatly affected the history of the church. From the fact that three different accounts of Saul’s conversion are recorded in Acts, we know this event had to play a crucial role in the expansion of the church.

(12) The same Saul who played a role in Stephen’s execution was to become, in large measure, his replacement. Saul, like Stephen, was a Hellenistic Jew. Saul, like Stephen, spoke with such power and authority that his opponents could not refute him. Saul, like Stephen, had a ministry which focused on the Hellenistic Jews. Like Stephen, the enemies of the gospel attempted to kill Saul when they could not silence him by means of debate.

(13) As Stephen’s death, instigated (or at least assisted) by Saul, resulted in an intense and widespread persecution of the churches in Jerusalem and elsewhere, so Saul’s conversion seems to have been directly related to the return of peace (cf. 9:31).

(14) There is an interesting symmetry or parallel between the conversion of Saul and the conversion of Cornelius.

“Conybeare and Howson {The Life and Times of Saint Paul, p. 77 (sic punct.)} remark on the symmetry with which Luke sets forth the two stories: ‘The simultaneous preparation of the hearts of Ananias and of Saul, and the simultaneous preparation of those of Peter and Cornelius,—the questioning and hesitation of Peter and the questioning and hesitation of Ananias,—the one doubting whether he might make friendship with the Gentiles, the other doubting whether he might approach the enemy of the Church,—the unhesitating obedience of each when the Divine will was made known,—the state of mind in which both the Pharisee and the centurion were found,—each waiting to see what the Lord would say to them,—this close analogy will not be forgotten by those who reverently read the two consecutive chapters. . ‘“136

Man Proposes—God Disposes
or Saul’s Intentions and God’s Interruption
(9:1-9)

Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, 2 and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way,137 both men and women,138 he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 And it came about that as he journeyed, he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who art Thou, Lord?”139 And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6 but rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do.” 7 And the men who traveled with him140 stood speechless, hearing the voice, but seeing no one.141 8 And Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus.142 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Verses 1 and 2 vividly depict Saul’s intent, his intense desire and determination to rid the world of Christianity by taking active, aggressive, severe action against those saints who had fled from Jerusalem. While Paul may not have brought about the execution of all those whom he arrested, including women as well as men (verse 2), verse 1 strongly suggests that this was his desire and ambition. How true are two of the proverbs, which read:

The mind of a man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps (Proverbs 16:9).

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, But the counsel of the LORD, it will stand (Proverbs 19:21).

God’s promises and purposes would not be stopped by this madman, Saul. Indeed, God would reveal His sovereignty by using Saul to further the gospel, first by his opposition (which scattered the church and spread the gospel), and then by his conversion (which resulted in his powerful proclamation of Jesus as Messiah).

We know from other accounts (22:6; 26:13) that it was “high noon” when Saul was stopped in his tracks by a bright light from heaven. This light would thus have been very bright indeed. It was bright enough to bring about a period of blindness. It was almost as though Saul had looked intently into the beam of an intensely powerful carbon-act light, the kind used as search lights.

This light was more, much more, than just a bright light. It is, in the Bible, the radiance of God’s glory. Frequent biblical texts speak of God in terms of light:

You are resplendent with light, more majestic than mountains rich with game (Psalm 76:4).

He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent (Psalm 104:2).

Who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen (1 Timothy 6:16).

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you (Isaiah 60:1).

He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him (Daniel 2:22).

Who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen (1 Timothy 6:16).

In the end, God Himself will provide the illumination so that the sun and the stars will not be needed for this function:

The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted (Isaiah 30:26).

The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory (Isaiah 60:19).

Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end (Isaiah 60:20).

The light of a lamp will never shine in you again. The voice of bridegroom and bride will never be heard in you again. Your merchants were the world’s great men. By your magic spell all the nations were led astray (Revelation 18:23).

The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it (Revelation 21:23-24).

There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever (Revelation 22:5).

Israel was called of God and set apart to proclaim the way of salvation to the Gentiles. They were to be a “light to the Gentiles,” but they failed. They wanted to keep God’s blessings to themselves. They too rebelled against God and forsook His word and persecuted His prophets. What Israel failed to do, Jesus, the Messiah would do. He was to come to the earth as the “great light,” the “light to the Gentiles,” and so He did. In His coming as “the light,” those who come to “the light” become lights to the world themselves:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned (Isaiah 9:2).

“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6).

He says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).

“Listen to me, my people; hear me, my nation: The law will go out from me; my justice will become a light to the nations (Isaiah 51:4).

After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities (Isaiah 53:11).

Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. Because I have sinned against him, I will bear the Lord’s wrath, until he pleads my case and establishes my right. He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness (Micah 7:8-9).

“The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16).

There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light (Matthew 17:2).

“A light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:32).

In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it .… He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world (John 1:4-5, 7-9).

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (John 3:19-21).

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5).

Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them (John 12:35-36).

I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness (John 12:46).

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard (Isaiah 58:8).

Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn (Isaiah 60:3).

When Saul was confronted on the road to Damascus, he saw the risen, glorified Lord. The light was the “light of His glory.” Saul, as it were, “saw the light,” but in addition, he was to become a light, a light to the Gentiles, as well as to his own people. Saul’s conversion was also his call to ministry, and this conversion experience is strikingly similar to that of one of his predecessors, Ezekiel:

1:4 I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, … 26 Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. 27 I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. 28 Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell face down, and I heard the voice of one speaking. 2:1 He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” 2 As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. 3 He said: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. 4 The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ 5 And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them. 6 And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house. 7 You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious (Ezekiel 1:4, 26-28; 2:1-7).143

Paul recognized that his ministry was that of bringing “the light” to those who were lost, including the Gentiles, kings, and his fellow-Israelites:

For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth’” (Acts 13:47).

“‘… to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me’” (Acts 26:18).

The blindness to which Saul was subject for three days provided him with much time for reflection, meditation, and prayer. But his blindness was symbolic of his condition. Israel was also blind, and Paul’s blindness was but a specific example of this blindness:

The Lord will afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind. At midday you will grope about like a blind man in the dark. You will be unsuccessful in everything you do; day after day you will be oppressed and robbed, with no one to rescue you (Deuteronomy 28:28-29).

“Hear, you deaf! And look, you blind, that you may see. Who is blind but my servant {Israel}, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one committed to me, blind like the servant of the Lord?” (Isaiah 42:18-19).

“Lead out those who have eyes but are blind, who have ears but are deaf. All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame.

Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep” (Isaiah 43:8-10).

Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like men without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead (Isaiah 59:10).

Now they grope through the streets like men who are blind. They are so defiled with blood that no one dares to touch their garments (Lamentations 4:14).

Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:14; cf. 23:16-17, 19, 24; 23:26).

This blindness was only removed by faith in Christ, a miracle brought about by divine action:

In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see (Isaiah 29:18).

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped (Isaiah 35:5).

To open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness (Isaiah 42:7).

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them” (Isaiah 42:16).

It was just such a miracle which gave Saul his spiritual sight, as he received back his physical sight. One cannot help but wonder if it did not send chills up and down Paul’s spine when he cast the spell of blindness on the Jewish false prophet, Bar-Jesus:

And when they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they found a certain prophet whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence. This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for thus his name is translated) was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze upon him, and said, “You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and not see the sun for a time.” And immediately a mist and a darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking those who would lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed when he saw what had happened, being amazed at the teaching of the Lord (Acts 13:6-12).

Just as Saul had opposed those who believed, so Bar-Jesus opposed the proconsul’s conversion. Just as Saul was stopped short by his blindness, so was Bar-Jesus. And if Saul’s blindness led to his own conversion, at least the blinding of Bar-Jesus contributed to the conversion of the proconsul (and perhaps too his own conversion—who knows?). If the blinding of Saul was a major turning point in his life, so was the blinding of Bar-Jesus. It is here in Acts, for the first time, that Saul is called Paul. It is here that Paul took the leadership and became the dominant or leading individual, instead of Barnabas. The blinding of Bar-Jesus thus seems to be the second major turning point in the ministry of Paul. The casting of this spell on this false prophet could therefore have been an act of kindness, as God’s blinding of Saul had been, intended to cease his opposition and perhaps even to bring about his conversion.

The light from heaven brought Saul to the ground. It was surely fear (reverence), among other things, which prompted this. Jesus’ words, “Why are you persecuting Me?,” clearly implied that Saul’s persecution of the church was a persecution of the Lord. Did he still not realize who the Lord was? So it would appear. And so, Saul asked the LORD who He was. The LORD identified Himself as the Jesus, whom he had been persecuting. Jesus was alive and not still in the grave! Jesus was LORD and not a false prophet! And Jesus took the persecution of Christians very personally. To persecute them was to persecute Him.

Enough revelation for the moment. It was time for Saul to ponder what he had seen and heard. For now, he was told to proceed on to Damascus, where he would be given his next instructions.144 His blindness certainly gave Saul the opportunity to dwell on these events. Saul took this most seriously, not eating or drinking until after his confession of faith by means of his baptism.

The Arrival of Ananias
(9:10-16)

10 Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Behold, here am I, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Thy saints at Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon Thy name.”145 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”

All of this account describes the two complementary divine visions which Ananias and Saul received. Saul’s vision prepared him for the arrival of Ananias, clearly indicating that he was the one God had appointed to reveal His will for him. Ananias’s vision was intended to direct him to the house of Judas and to Saul. There is more space devoted to convincing Ananias than there is to the conversion of Saul. It is difficult to estimate the amount of resistance Ananias would have had to this divine instruction to receive Saul as a brother in the Lord. Perhaps Ananias called a meeting of the church to discuss how they would deal with Saul’s arrival. He was a man of great respect and influence, and thus he realized that his actions would have broad ramifications. The ultimate issue was God’s ability to save—even the most committed unbeliever. How humorous it seems to hear Ananias informing the Lord that Saul was an enemy, one who had caused many Christians great suffering and adversity, as though He was unaware of this! Rather than attempt to pacify Ananias or to alleviate his apprehension, God went on to tell him that Saul would not only be a brother, but he would be His instrument for bringing the gospel to Gentiles too. Now this would have been a very bitter pill to swallow for many Jewish Christians. Nevertheless, Ananias obeyed.

The Meeting of Ananias and Saul
(9:17-19a)

17 And Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he arose and was baptized; 19 and he took food and was strengthened.

The words and actions of Ananias are an evidence of his faith and obedience to the divine commission he was given, as outlined by Luke in the verses above. They are also very significant in what they conveyed to Saul. The words, “Brother Saul” must not have come easily to Ananias. They were based, as I understand it, on what the Lord had revealed to Ananias and not on any confession or actions of Saul, for these seem to follow these initial actions and words of Ananias. Saul was received as a true believer, as a brother.146 The laying on of Ananias’s hands, however, was a distinct act of identification with Saul. The result was the restoration of Saul’s sight and, it would seem, Saul’s reception of the Holy Spirit. Saul’s baptism followed, accompanied by his profession of faith, his “calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). After this, Saul broke his fast and was strengthened.

The Consequences of Saul’s Conversion
(9:19b-25)

Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 And all those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding147 the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.

23 And when many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. And they were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; 25 but his disciples took him by night, and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.

The remaining verses of this account describe the results of Saul’s conversion, all of which serve as dramatic proof of his radical transformation as a result of his encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. The first evidence of Saul’s conversion was his immediate identification with the church in Damascus. He who had wanted to kill these saints now wanted to fellowship with them. No doubt God had used Ananias to serve as Saul’s “first Barnabas.” Just as Barnabas would vouch for Saul with the apostles in Jerusalem, so Ananias, a highly respected Jewish Christian, would vouch for Saul here.

The second evidence of Saul’s conversion was in his bold proclamation of his newly found faith in Jesus as the Messiah. This man who had formerly cringed at the preaching of the gospel148 was now proclaiming the same message. The man who, days before, was persecuting Christ was now preaching Christ. Saul proclaimed Jesus to be the “Son of God” (9:20), a designation understood to refer to Israel’s awaited Messiah.149

The results of Saul’s preaching were predictable, very much like the response Saul would have had (or did have) to the preaching of the gospel before his conversion. Some were amazed, taking note of the dramatic turn-about in Saul’s faith and practice (9:21). But as Saul grew in strength and as his arguments were irrefutable, just as Stephen’s had been (Acts 6:10), his opponents realized that the only way to silence Saul was to kill him. They could not out-argue him. They could not prove him wrong from the Scriptures. They could only kill him, and this they were determined to do (9:23). When the plot became known to Saul, he made a successful, albeit undignified, escape from the city of Damascus. His disciples150 lowered him in a basket, from the window of a room which was in the wall of the city (9:25).

Saul’s Journey to Jerusalem
(9:26-30)

26 And when he had come to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 And he was with them moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death. 30 But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus.

There may well have been a long time between Saul’s conversion and his arrival at Jerusalem. This conclusion could be based upon Paul’s argument in Galatians 1 and 2, along with the expression, “when many days had elapsed” in Acts 9:23. Nevertheless, at some point in time Saul did arrive in Jerusalem. One thing was certain; no matter how much time had passed, the apostles were not yet convinced of Saul’s conversion. They, not unlike Ananias, were very reluctant to have anything to do with this Christian killer. It was due to the intervention of Barnabas, a man who would prove to be a lifetime friend of Paul, that the apostles risked a meeting with him and then granted him the freedom to associate with the saints in Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem, as in Damascus, Saul spoke out boldly proclaiming Jesus to be the Christ, the promised Messiah. Like Stephen, Saul seemed to gravitate toward preaching to the Hellenistic Jews (9:29). Some of the Hellenistic Jews responded to the preaching of Saul as they had to Stephen’s preaching; they wanted to kill him (9:29). He was, indeed, Stephen’s replacement. As at Damascus, Saul eventually had to leave the city of Jerusalem to save his life. The church sent him on his way to Tarsus by way of Caesarea. Those whose lives Saul would gladly have taken in his unsaved days now sought to save his life by sending him away.

Peace Returns When Saul is Removed
(9:31)

31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and, going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.

Saul seems to have been the instigator of the persecution of the church, which began at the death of Stephen in Jerusalem and worked outward from there. With the conversion of Saul, persecution of the church did not stop, for now some of the Hellenistic Jews were opposing his preaching (and no doubt, the church at large as well). It was only with the exit of Saul from the Holy Land, back to his native land (Tarsus), that peace once again returned. As persecution was no longer needed to disperse the church and the gospel, peace was restored to the land. There is surely a connection between Saul and persecution, and Saul and peace. In peace, as in persecution, the church was comforted and continued to increase.

Conclusion

The first question which must be asked with regard to the interpretation of this text is this: “What is the meaning of this text in the context of the whole book?” Luke has included this account of Saul’s conversion in order to contribute to the argument which he is seeking to develop. The argument of the Book of Acts is essentially this: The expansion of the gospel through the church as it is empowered by the Holy Spirit. The expansion is three-fold:

(1) The expansion from Christ, to His apostles, to His church

(2) The geographical expansion from Jerusalem to Rome

(3) The racial expansion from the Jews to the Gentiles.

Saul’s conversion was to play a crucial role in the expansion of the gospel. Paul’s opposition resulted in the scattering of the Christians from Jerusalem, thus taking the gospel to Judea, Samaria, and beyond (Acts 8:1; 11:19-21). The salvation of Saul was to result in the gospel being preached to distant people and lands, and in the extension of the church to many key cities. In the process, Saul was to greatly extend the outreach of the gospel to the Gentiles. It was his preaching that resulted in the conversion of many Gentiles, and it was his writing (his epistles) to these saints which greatly strengthened them in their faith. Saul’s conversion is a watershed event, catapulting the gospel to the Gentiles and to more distant places.

The conversion of Saul is important in another way. It is one of the few accounts of a conversion which is described with some detail (although this detail is much less than we would prefer). The question must be asked as to whether or not Saul’s conversion has a more general application and relevance. In other words, “Is Saul’s conversion typical and illustrative of the conversion of every saint, or is it unique, the exceptional case, which has little correspondence to most converts?”

The longer I study Saul’s conversion, the more convinced I am that his conversion is typical. Granted, his experience is unique and dramatic. Few Christians will encounter the risen, glorified Lord as Saul did here. We would readily grant that every conversion which is recorded is unique, to some degree. That is because our Lord always confronts, convicts, and converts men and women individually, in the light of their own actions and beliefs. Jesus dealt with Nicodemus (John 3) very differently from the Samaritan woman (John 4). Nevertheless, conversion has certain elements which are vital and which are to be present in any salvation experience. The common characteristics of conversion are those on which I would like to focus in the conversion of Saul.

Characteristics of Conversion

(1) Saul’s salvation was the salvation of a sinner. One of the most dramatic revelations of Saul’s Damascus road experience was that he was not serving God, but he was persecuting Him. The first words spoken to Saul were, “Saul, Saul, Why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4).

What a shock these words must have been to Saul, who up to this point, seems to have prided himself for his faithfulness to Judaism! Up till now, Jesus was the sinner, and Saul was the saint. Now that the Lord had identified Himself as Jesus, Saul recognized that he was the sinner. In fact, as Saul would later write, he realized that he was “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).

Saul was also blinded, which identified him with the blindness of the nation Israel of which the Old Testament prophets wrote (see above). In Saul’s account of his conversion to His Jewish brethren, he added that when Ananias arrived, he instructed him to “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). This expression, “calling on the name of the Lord” seems to be one used consistently in the Old Testament. It is the invitation for sinful Israelites to be saved, by repenting and calling on the name of the Lord for salvation:

Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:6-7; cf. also Psalm 50:15; Joel 2:32; Jeremiah 29:12; 33:3-8).

Later, when Paul looked back on his past “devotion and deeds,” all done in the name of Judaism, he came to view his apparent “righteous deeds” for what they really were—dung:

1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. 7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith (Philippians 3:1-9; cf. also Isaiah 64:6).

What Paul learned about himself, personally, on the road to Damascus he came to understand and to preach concerning all men. Theologically, we know this as the doctrine of man’s total depravity.151 Paul surely believed that it was essential for men to begin with the understanding of their own sin, for in his Epistle to the Romans, he took the first two and one-half chapters to prove that “… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

There are no exceptions in this “all” of Romans 3:23, as Paul indicated in these Old Testament words, cited just before:

“THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE” (Romans 3:10b-12).

What a terrible revelation this is—that all are sinners, even the “best,” the most religious, the most righteous! But the gospel is good news for sinners. It is also bad news for the self-righteous. This is why Jesus was so receptive of sinners and so hard on the self-righteous. The good news of the gospel is that Christ Jesus came to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Those who think themselves worthy of God’s blessings (as many Jews did in that day) are those who are in trouble. Those who know themselves sinners, and who call upon Jesus for salvation, are saved:

For “WHOSOEVER WILL CALL UPON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED” (Romans 10:13, citing Joel 2:32).

Lest anyone think they are “too sinful” to save, let me remind you that when Paul wrote that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” he quickly added, “among whom I am foremost of all.”

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life (1 Timothy 1:12-16).

If the worst sinner (Saul) was not too sinful to save, then you are not too sinful for God to save. No sinner is beyond the grace and the grasp of God.

(2) Saul’s salvation was exclusively the work of a sovereign God. Our text presents Saul as a man who was not only running from God, but one who was actively opposing Him. Saul was not “seeking God.” Saul was saved in spite of himself. This Paul knew and testified to. God chose Saul and had his destiny planned, before He saved him. When God spoke to Ananias commanding him to go to the house where Saul was staying, he was to receive him as a brother; and he was told that he was called to suffer as God’s chosen vessel to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles, kings, and to his fellow-Israelites. In Galatians 1, Saul wrote that God had called him “while he was still in his mother’s womb” (Galatians 1:15).

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:3-6).

Luke is emphatic in his representation of man’s salvation as having been ordained and orchestrated by God, as a manifestation of His sovereign grace:

And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48).

And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul (Acts 16:14).

Those things in which Saul would have formerly trusted for his standing before God, he saw in an entirely different light after God found him and saved him:

4b If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. 7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ, 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philippians 1:4-9).

There is a great basis for comfort in the sovereignty of God. We know that the salvation of men rests ultimately with God and not with us—and not even with the one whom we wish to see saved. How much better to petition God to save those whom we are concerned about, a God who desires all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). And what a comfort to know that God always finishes what He starts:

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

(3) Saul’s salvation was personal. The election of Saul to salvation was specific and thus, personal. It is evident in the way he was saved. The risen Lord selected Saul out of the group with which he was traveling to hear, to see Him, and to understand His words. Jesus did not address the entire group but said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” The others knew that something unusual was going on, but they did not grasp it (Acts 22:9). The approach the Lord took was one of dealing with Saul in the light of his sin, of his salvation, and of his ministry. The voice from heaven did not call out, “Have you ever heard of the four spiritual laws?”152 Ananias was sent to Saul only. The message which Saul received was not only a call to salvation, but a divine call to ministry.

There are two very important implications to the personal dimension of Saul’s conversion. The first is this: every saved person must have a personal conversion experience. We may not be able to identify the precise moment or the exact events which brought it about, but salvation does not happen in some kind of group way. Salvation may occur in a large group, such as those saved at the preaching of Peter at Pentecost, but each individual was saved because of a personal encounter with Christ. Have you had such an encounter?

Second, the gospel should be proclaimed in a way that is personal. When I look through the Gospels and the Book of Acts, I never find the gospel presented in the same way to different people. The message of the gospel, to be sure, is always the same, but the approach is not. Let us not fail to respect the individuality of the conversion experience and to deal with people in the light of their individuality. Let us avoid “cookie cutter conversions.”

(4) Saul’s salvation was miraculous. Saul’s conversion was a miracle, short and simple, but not so much the result of the external miracle of the bright light and the voice of the Lord as the internal transformation and illumination which God wrought:

15 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man (Galatians 1:15-16).

When Paul spoke of his conversion here in Galatians 1, he did not speak of the light which shone without, but rather of the light which shone within. He did not say that God revealed his Son to him, but that He revealed His Son in him. This divine illumination is that miracle which God performs within a lost, blinded, dead soul, so as to bring about salvation:

4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4, 6).

Salvation is the miracle whereby God removes the blindness of sin and of Satan, whereby God replaces death with life. This is a miracle, a miracle which is all of God, and all of grace.

(5) Saul’s salvation was an act of divine grace. Saul recognized that he was a sinner, and that his “righteousness” was but “dung” before God. He realized that it was nothing which he had done—nor ever would do—but only by what Jesus Christ had done that saved him. Thus, whenever he spoke of his conversion and his call to ministry, he always spoke of this incident as an act of divine grace, of God’s unmerited favor, of an act of mercy toward him:

I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:15-16).

8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord (1 Corinthians 15:8-11).

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 1:12-14).

The same grace which was shown to Saul in his salvation is shown to all whom God calls to Himself:

8 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day (2 Timothy 1:8-12).

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast (Galatians 2:8-9).

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:5-7).

Throughout his life and ministry Paul marveled at the grace of God shown to him and to other sinners. He constantly defended the gospel against those who would diminish grace and seek to pollute it with works. The Book of Galatians is but one example of this. He also warned those who would corrupt grace, to make it a pretext for sin (cf. Romans 6).

Grace is not only the basis for one’s salvation, but also for one’s spiritual walk and service:

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude (Colossians 2:6-7).

Thus, it is grace which sustains the saint, in addition to saving him:

Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were thus occupied were not benefited (Hebrews 13:9).

Grace is also the source and the standard for our service:

Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person (Colossians 4:6).

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God (1 Peter 4:10).

(6) Saul’s salvation was a conversion, a radical change. Salvation is a revolution, not an evolution. It is not a transition, but a transformation. It is a miraculous, dramatic reversal, first of one’s beliefs, and then of one’s behavior. This is very evident in the conversion of Saul. One moment, Saul was persecuting the church; shortly thereafter he was seeking to fellowship with the saints. One moment, Saul was opposing Jesus, as though He were the sinner; the next, Saul is on his face before this Jesus, calling Him Lord. One moment, Saul is inflicting pain and suffering on others who trust in Jesus as the Messiah, the next, he is enduring suffering for the sake of Jesus, the Messiah. Nothing is more evident in the account of Saul’s conversion than his radical reversal. Here is a graphic illustration of what true repentance is—it is a turning about, beginning with one’s belief and bearing fruit in one’s conduct. The baptism of Saul was his testimony to the change which had taken place. But beyond this, his conversion totally changed the remainder of his life. The life-changing implications of conversion are expressed in these words of Paul to Titus:

11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. 15 These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you (Titus 2:11-15).

Perhaps nowhere else is the radical change (of conversion) in Paul’s life153 more readily evident than in his attitude toward the saints. Saul sought them out to persecute, even kill them, as an unbeliever; but he sought them out to worship and fellowship with them as a Christian. More than that, he had a deep dislike and hostility toward Christians before his conversion. When we look at Paul’s great love and compassion for the saints, we have to remind ourselves of the hate he once had toward them. Only a radical conversion can produce this attitude in the life of a man like Saul:

For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:8).

But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children (1 Thessalonians 2:7).

For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).

Over and over in his epistles, Paul spoke of salvation in terms of radical change. He spoke of it as the movement from darkness to light (Colossians 1:12-13; Ephesians 4:8-14) in which the new believer should now walk. He spoke of salvation as the change from death to life (Ephesians 2:1-3). He spoke of salvation as dying to the old manner of living and as rising from the dead in order to live an entirely new life (Romans 6). Christianity was described as putting off the old and putting on the new (Colossians 3). No change in life is greater than the change from unbelief to belief in Christ, from being lost and condemned to being saved and eternally secure, from being separated from God and others to being united with Him and with all believers.

The conversion of Saul, as depicted in our text, was not only a divine “call” to salvation, but it was also a “call” to service. At first, I thought this was unique with Saul. I was inclined to think that most of us, experientially, are called to faith in Christ only to gradually learn God’s will for our life, progressively revealed to us as we walk in Him. But as I see the “call of God” referred to in the New Testament, it seems that the “call of salvation” assumes other “callings,” to which Paul and other New Testament writers made frequent reference:

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God (Romans 1:1).

6 And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. 7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:6-7).

1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours … 9 God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful (1 Corinthians 1:1-2, 9).

15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 17 Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. 18 Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. 20 Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. 21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. 24 Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to (1 Corinthians 7:15, 17-22, 24).154

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13).

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints (Ephesians 1:18).

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received (Ephesians 4:1).

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful (Colossians 3:15).

For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life (1 Thessalonians 4:7).

With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith (2 Thessalonians 1:11).

Who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time (2 Timothy 1:9).

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9).

Just as Saul was “called” to a live of suffering, so Peter tells his readers that they too, like all saints, are called to “suffer for His name”:

To this {suffering} you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21).

The “call” to salvation is also the “call” to a life of holiness and obedience. The “call” of salvation is a call to change.

(7) The salvation of Saul was Christ-centered. When all is said and done, the miracle which took place on the way to Damascus (and likely in Damascus as well) was that Saul saw Jesus as the Son of God, as the Messiah, and as his Savior and Lord:

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? (1 Corinthians 9:1).

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).

Saul’s salvation was focused on one thing and on one thing alone—Christ. He summed up life in this one word:

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to his death (Philippians 3:7-10).

For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. For in Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him (Colossians 1:13-19).

It is no wonder then that this one who was Saul’s all in all would be the focus, the substance, of the gospel which he preached:

“But we preach Christ crucified …” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

“For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

And when the Galatians began to depart from the true gospel, Paul rebuked them for turning from Him:

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel (Galatians 6).

Note Paul’s summary of the gospel at the end of Galatians 2:

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20).

Paul’s method was consistent with his message. He sought to preach Christ in simplicity and not in a way that would detract from Him. Thus, he did not use the method of many others, which was man-centered, not Christ-centered:

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void. For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:17-18; cf. also 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:2).

For Paul, the method of proclaiming the gospel must be consistent with the message itself, and so it was.

(8) The salvation of Saul made him a vital part of Christ’s body, the church. The first words of the Lord Jesus to Saul were intended to teach him the inseparable unity between Christ and His church. Saul could only be persecuting Jesus through the members of His body, the church. Thus, persecuting the church was persecuting Jesus Christ. If the unity of Christ and His body, the church, were a vital truth with respect to Saul’s persecution of the church, it was also a vital truth for him as a Christian. It is no wonder that a fair amount of the text is devoted to a description of Saul’s attempt to associate with the local church, first at Damascus, and then in Jerusalem. And if this was important for Saul to do, it was equally important for the church to accept him into their fellowship, as an expression of their unity in Christ. The laying on of Ananias’ hands was also an expression of unity, as was the later “right hand of fellowship” extended by some of the apostles to Saul (Galatians 2:9).

To Paul, his relationship, by faith, to Jesus Christ was also the beginning of his new relationship to the body of Christ, the church:

Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:24-27).

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow-citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).

There are all too many “autonomous Christians,” those who feel that coming to faith in Christ does not necessitate identifying with His body, the church. They are “private Christians,” living like islands rather than as a part of His body. They do not understand the gospel well enough.

(9) Finally, I believe that Luke’s portrayal of Saul’s salvation is typical of that of the nation Israel, which is still future. I believe that as Luke portrays Saul in Acts, it is as a prototype, a picture of Israel. The Old Testament passages which I have suggested bear to Saul (“blind,” light”) are passages which speak of Israel in their original context. Saul, in my opinion, is portrayed by Luke as the first-fruits of these promises. Saul, like Israel, had been blinded as to the meaning of the law because of his rejection of Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:14; cf. 5:3-4). Saul, the typical (albeit more zealous) Jew, opposed God in the person of Christ and His body, the church, even while he thought he was serving Him. And yet, even in opposing God, he furthered God’s purposes; he was instrumental in the evangelization of the Gentiles (Acts 8:1, 4; 11:19-21). And yet while God had foretold the rebellion of Israel and their rejection, so He had also foretold of Israel’s restoration (cf. the “light” and “blind” passages above). And thus, in God’s time, Saul was dramatically converted, seeing the Christ whom he had been persecuting, risen from the dead and in His heavenly glory. Israel too will look on Him whom they have pierced and mourn. Israel too will just as surely return to God; and when it happens, it will be all of God, all to His glory and praise:

15 Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. 16 He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him. 17 He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak. 18 According to what they have done, so will he repay wrath to his enemies and retribution to his foes; he will repay the islands their due. 19 From the west, men will fear the name of the Lord, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory. For he will come like a pent-up flood that the breath of the Lord drives along. 20 “The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares the Lord. 21 “As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever,” says the Lord. 60:1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. 2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. 3 Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (Isaiah 59:15b–60:13).

10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. 11 On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be great, like the weeping of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. 12 The land will mourn, each clan by itself, with their wives by themselves: the clan of the house of David and their wives, the clan of the house of Nathan and their wives, 13 the clan of the house of Levi and their wives, the clan of Shimei and their wives, 14 and all the rest of the clans and their wives. 13:1 “On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity” (Zechariah 12:10–13:1).

The conversion of Saul is a very crucial event in this book, which spells out from a historical point of view (Romans, from a theological viewpoint) the relationship of Jews and Gentiles in the plans and purposes of God. For the time being, God is using the disobedience of Israel to accomplish His purposes, but there is surely a time coming when Israel will be restored to the Lord, by faith in Christ. And when this time comes, God will use their obedience to serve Him:

“For if their rejection be the salvation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:15).

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,

“THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB.” AND THIS IS MY COVENANT WITH THEM, WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS.”

From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you once were disobedient to God but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, in order that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all (Romans 11:25-32).

There is no more appropriate conclusion to our message than the words of the apostle Paul, which immediately follow those above, and which aptly express the response of the Christian to the wisdom, the grace, and the sovereignty of the God who has saved us, and who works all things together for His glory and for the good of His chosen ones:

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! FOR WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? OR WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36).

Amen!

See Appendix B for information on Saul’s Theology in the Book of Romans.


129 “The history of Damascus goes back to remote antiquity. It was a city in the days of Abraham, and at the time of the Israelite monarchy it was the capital of the most important Aramaean kingdom. Later it was the seat of administration of an Assyrian province. In Hellenistic times it was completely replanned on the Hippodamian grid-system. From 64 B.C. on it belonged to the Roman province of Syria, but had a measure of municipal autonomy in the loose federation of cities called the Decapolis.” F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), p. 181.

“Damascus was an important town, about 150 miles (242 km) from Jerusalem, with a considerable Jewish population. It lay within the jurisdiction of the Roman province of Syria, and it formed part of the Decapolis, a league of self-governing cities. In 2 Corinthians 11:32 Paul speaks of an ethnarch of Aretas, the king of the Nabataean Arabs, who guarded the city to prevent him escaping from it. It is not clear whether this official was a representative of the king resident in Damascus to look after the interests of the Arabs there, or whether Damascus at this time was under the control of Nabataea.” I. Howard Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprint, 1987), p. 168.

“This old city is the most enduring in the history of the world (Knowling). It is some 150 miles Northeast from Jerusalem and watered by the river Abana from Anti-Lebanon. Here the Jews were strong in numbers (10,000 butchered by Nero later) and here some disciples had found refuge from Saul’s persecution in Judea and still worshipped in the synagogues. Paul’s language in Acts 26:11 seems to mean that Damascus is merely one of other `foreign cities’ to which he carried the persecution.” A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930), III, p. 114.

130 In our text, we are told the Saul “went to the high priest” to ask for letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus (9:1-2), but in Acts 22:5-6 Paul indicates that the “Council” (the Sanhedrin) was also involved in providing him with letters of authorization to arrest Christians in Damascus. Furthermore, in Acts 26:10 Paul testifies that he received letters from the chief priests, not just the chief priest alone.

131 “. . . the Romans . . . required neighboring states to grant it the privileges of a sovereign state, including the right of extradition. A letter delivered at that time by a Roman ambassador to Ptolemy VIII of Egypt concludes with the demand: ‘If any pestilent men have fled to you from their own country {Judaea}, hand them over to Simon the high priest, so that he may punish them according to their law’ (1 Macc. 15:21). In 47 B.C. Julius Caesar confirmed those rights and privileges anew to the Jewish nation (although Judaea was no longer a sovereign state), and more particularly to the high-priesthood.” F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), pp. 180-181.

132 The impact of Saul’s conversion on his message and his ministry is testified to by A. T. Robertson:

“Luke evidently attached great importance to the story of Saul’s conversion as the turning point not simply in the career of the man, but an epoch in the history of apostolic Christianity. . . It is impossible to overestimate the worth to the student of Christianity of this event from every angle because we have in Paul’s Epistles his own emphasis on the actual appearance of Jesus to him as the fact that changed his whole life (1 Cor. 15:8; Gal. 1:16f.).” A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930), III, p. 115.

Acts 9, 22, 26; Romans 15:15-21; cf. also Romans 1:1-7, 13-17; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:3-11; cf. also 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 11:32-33; cf. also 2:14-17; 3:12-18; 4:1-18; 5:17-21; 6:13--7:1; Galatians 1:13-17; cf. 1:11--2:10; Ephesians 3:1-13; cf. 1:11--2:10; Philippians 3:1-14; Colossians 1:24-29; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; 6:13-16; 2 Timothy 1:8-12; Titus 2:11-15; 3:1-7.

133 I. Howard Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprint, 1987), p. 173.

134 Blaiklock comes to this conclusion concerning the time of Saul’s conversion:

“Probably the earliest acceptable date for the conversion on the Damascus road is AD 33. This would leave AD 33-46 for the visit to Arabia (Gal. 1. 17) and the restoration of the man after the shattering experience he had known, and for the early ministry in Tarsus, Syria, Cilicia, and Antioch, which prepared mind and method for the major assault on the pagan world. The splendid deliberateness with which God forged His human tool is the great lesson of these years. Impatient men forget that God is not bound by time. His conversion was by far the most vital influence in Paul’s life. Ancestry, Pharisaic training, Hellenistic education, were fused by it into the character which the Holy Spirit formed and fashioned over the fourteen years of training. At length, in God’s good time, the door opened, and the events of half a lifetime assumed final and complete significance.” E. M. Blaiklock, The Acts of the Apostles, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company {photo-lithoprinted}, 1966), p. 90.

135 There are those who describe Saul as a “tormented man” after the stoning of Stephen. I am not at all sure how this can be determined from the text. I see a man who is confident, aggressive, and zealous, rather than a man troubled by inner doubts. The conclusion of many of the commentators is that Saul’s conversion was a much longer process than I see reflected in this account, or in any other. Blaiklock, for example (pp. 87-89), plays out the two views of Saul’s conversion, the first (and seldom held the view of Ramsay), that Saul was suddenly and radically converted; second, that there was a considerable process involved.

136 E. M. Blaiklock, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company {photolithoprinted}, 1966), p. 91.

137 “‘The Way’ is a designation for the new movement used several times in Acts 9:19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22; cf. also 16:17; 18:25-26). It was evidently a term used by the early followers of Jesus to denote their movement as the way of life or the way of salvation.” F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), p. 181.

138 “Three times (8:3; 9:2; 22:4) this fact of persecuting women is mentioned as a special blot in Paul’s cruelty (the third time by Paul himself) and one of the items in his being chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15).” A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930), III, p. 114.

139 A. T. Robertson writes, “It is open to question if kurie should not here be translated ‘Sir’ as in 16:30 and in Matt. 21:29 (30); John 5:7; 12:21; 20:15; and should be so in John 9:36. It is hardly likely that at this stage Saul recognized Jesus as Lord, though he does so greet him in 22:10 `What shall I do, Lord?’” A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930), III, pp. 116-117.

This can hardly be possible. If there is one thing of which Saul is now convinced (by what he has so far seen and heard on the road) it is that whoever he is talking to is LORD. The only question is who is the LORD? The answer is: Jesus. Saul was not aware, until after our Lord’s words, that the One who had interrupted his journey was Jesus, and that Jesus was, indeed, the Messiah, the LORD, but he was certain, at this point, that whoever this One was, He was the LORD.

140 “They are called his sunodeuontes, `those who were in the caravan with Him’ (cf. sunodia, Luke 2:44).” F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), fn. 28, p. 185.

141 Compare this voice with that in John 12:29.

142 “His companions therefore took him by the hand and led him through the gate of Damascus to the place where, presumably, arrangements had been made for him to stay.” F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), p. 185.

Presumably this is the case, however I still wonder a bit about this. Could Judas have been a Christian? Could it be that God had also appointed someone to meet Saul as he entered the city, with specific instructions as to where he was to stay? There is a great deal of information we are not given, and thus we cannot be dogmatic about our conclusions.

143 “. . . a conversion of will, intellect, and emotion, which dictated the abiding purpose and direction of his subsequent life and activity. . . . There are affinities between his conversion experience and Ezekiel’s inaugural vision, in which the prophet saw the ‘likeness’ of the heavenly throne and above it ‘a likeness as it were of a human form’ (Ezek. 1:26); but for Saul the one who bore a human form identified himself as a historical person: `I am Jesus.’ Few of Saul’s distinctive insights into the significance of the gospel cannot be traced back to the Damascus-road event, or to the outworking of that event in his life and thought. “ F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), p. 113.

144 Was Ananias the one who “told him what he must do”? Perhaps so, but I am not as confident of this as I once was. Who told Saul to go to the house of Judas on Straight Street? It was, of course, Ananias who instructed Saul to be baptized, calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16).

145 “We may note incidentally the two new descriptions of the Christians used here. The saints (9:32, 41; 26:10; cf. 20:32; 26:18) is a common term in Paul’s writings and describes Christians as people who have been set apart for God’s service and must show an appropriate character. Those who call upon your name echoes 2:21 (Joel 2:32) and recurs in 22:16 in a command to Paul himself to be baptized . . . .” I. Howard Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprint, 1987), p. 171.

146 It is possible, however, to understand the expression, “Brother,” as referring to Saul only as a fellow Jew. Paul would later use this expression (in the plural) to address his unbelieving Jewish opponents, as in Acts 22:1.

147 “The more Saul preached, the more the Jews were confused. Proving (sunbibazon). Present active participle of sunbubazo, old verb to make go together, to coalesce, to knit together. It is the very word that Luke will use in 16:10 of the conclusion reached at Troas concerning the vision of Paul. Here Saul took the various items in the life of Jesus of Nazareth and found in them the proof that he was in reality ‘the Messiah’ (ho Christos). This method of argument Paul continued to use with the Jews (Acts 17:3). It was irresistible argument and spread consternation among the Jews. It was the most powerful piece of artillery in the Jewish camp that was suddenly turned round upon them.” A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930), III, p. 123.

148 I would assume that Saul was one of those who covered his ears so as not to hear the praise of Stephen, as reported in Acts 7:57. Even if he were not one of these men, he would surely have hated to hear the gospel. And now, he is preaching the same message.

149 “It is more significant than might be supposed at first glance that the only occurrence of the title `Son of God’ in Acts should be in this report of Saul’s early preaching. It was as the Son of God that Christ was revealed to him on the Damascus road (Gal. 1:16; cf. 2 Cor. 1:19; Rom. 1:4).” F. F. Bruce, p. 190.

“That our Lord’s contemporaries believed the Messiah to be in some special sense the son of God is rendered probable by the wording of the high priest’s question to him at his trial: `Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ (Mark 14:61 par. Matt. 26:63; Luke 22:67, 70). As applied to our Lord, then, the title `Son of God’ marks him out as the true representative of the Israel of God and as God’s anointed king; but it is no merely official title. As he himself understood the heavenly voice which said to him at his baptism, ‘You are my Son’ (Mark 1:11 par. Luke 3:22), it expressed his unique relationship and fellowship with the Father.” Ibid.

150 It is interesting to ponder the identity of these “disciples” of Saul. Were they some of those converted to Christ through his preaching? But why would they be called “his disciples”? Would the church not have undertaken the task of discipling these folks? Or could it be that these “disciples of Saul” were Saul’s disciples before his conversion, who accompanied him as he sought to capture Christians. It may be that Saul’s conversion was the instrument God used to convert these followers of Saul, so that they really were “his disciples,” in a two-fold sense.

151 The doctrine of total depravity is that every person, every man, woman, and child, has been affected (infected?) by the sin of Adam. Everyone is born in sin, and every part of their being is affected by sin (intellect, emotions, and will). This doctrine does not hold that men are as bad as they could be in each area of their life, but that sin has permeated every dimension of a person’s life.

152 I do not mean to criticize the four laws of Campus Crusade, which have been used of God to bring many to faith in Christ. But these laws, which seek to summarize the gospel in a concise way, should always be applied individually. The Lord seeks and saves individuals, and thus our methods should be personal.

153 Saul’s conversion did not bring instant maturity or spirituality, but was the point where growth commenced. We know from Romans 7, for example, that Paul had struggles in his spiritual walk. We know that Paul was not instantly a biblical scholar or a seasoned apostle. His conversion was the beginning of a life-long process of maturing and growth in the Lord.

154 What is both interesting and important about this text is that the “call of salvation” does not necessarily require a change of career. Some would like the excuse to make some “changes” to make their life more comfortable. The “call” of salvation is a call to holiness, and to obedience, and to fellowship, with God and with our fellow-believers. It may well be a call to live transformed lives in the same circumstances in which we were found. Indeed, this seems to be the rule. Let us be careful to discern what changes the gospel requires and what changes it does not.

Related Topics: Soteriology (Salvation)