COMMENTARY

Acts 9:1-22

Saul meets Jesus and is converted


1 And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,
2 And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.

[Damascus] Damascus, the modern day capital of Syria, is reputed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. It was already a landmark during the time of Abram. Genesis 14:15. Damascus lies about 135 miles north of Jerusalem and about fifty miles inland from the Mediterranean sea. During New Testament times Damascus had a sizeable Jewish population and apparently Saul had information that a number of Jewish Christians had fled there.

[Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter] A common euphemism of the time. He was so consumed with his plan that his every breath was spent voicing his intention. He could not stop talking about it.

[Went to the high priest and desired of him letters] Of course, the high priest was in full accord with Saul and more than willing to assist Saul in obtaining the proper documents.

3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
7 And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.
8 And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.

The narrative of Saul's conversion is so important that it is included in full three times in the book of Acts. The above is in the words of Luke. The other two times Saul recounts his experience. We recommend that you read all three. Acts 22:1-10, Acts 26:1-16.

[A light from heaven] Brighter than the midday sun. Acts 26:12-13. The glory of God. A shaft of overpowering light permitted to shine from heaven to earth. It was Jesus himself who was communicating with Saul from heaven. Notice a few Biblical references to the Glory of God. Ezekiel 1:25-28. Matthew 17:1-2, Revelation 21:10-11, Revelation 21:22-23.

[Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?] Talk about confusion. Saul had been a serious student of Scripture and thought himself to be blameless before God in every area of his life. Philippians 3:4-6. Now here was someone of obvious supernatural power accusing Saul of persecuting him.

[Who art thou lord?] In this case, the word lord is used in the sense of sir. Saul did not know exactly who was addressing him but it was evident that the person deserved great respect.

[I am Jesus ] Jesus????! I assume that Saul's mind was reeling. He had been taught and had believed in all sincerety that Jesus was an impostor, an enemy of the true religion, and that his followers were spreading false teaching and must be stopped before they contaminated the eternal souls of faithful jews. Now this very Jesus was speaking to him from heaven, informing him that he was mistaken. The implications were enormous. Was it possible that other of his beliefs and practices were also in error?

[Whom thou persecutest:] Jesus was already in heaven at the right hand of the Father receiving honor rather than persecution, Acts 7:55-56, Hebrews 1:1-3, but this statement makes it clear that the persecution of his followers equates to persecution of Jesus himself. John 15:18-23, John 16:1-3.

[It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.] Some scholars make a great deal of the fact that this phrase is not found in this exact verse in many of the ancient manuscripts. However, it is present in Saul's description of the event before Agrippa Acts 26:14 so the statement appears to be factual regardless where it was recorded. The reference is to the practice of using a sharp stick to goad oxen along as they pull a cart or a plow. Occasionally an ox would become annoyed at the continual pricking and would kick back at the stick, accidentally stabbing his own leg in the process. It may be inferred that the Holy Spirit was already causing pricks of conscience to Saul's heart even before his encounter wih Jesus.

[Hearing a voice but seeing no man.] The entourage travelling with Saul was terrorized. They saw the light and heard sounds but did not understand the sounds Acts 22:9. The explicit message had been for Saul alone but none of those accompanying him could deny that a significant event had occurred even if they did not understand it.

8 And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.
9 And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.

[He saw no man] The bright light had temporarily blinded him. Understandable. Prior to every solar eclipse experts warn people to not stare directly at the sun because of the risk of damaging one's eyes. An occupational hazard for arc welders is the danger of burns to the cornea if they do not wear adequate protection from the brilliant light produced by the arc.

[Three days] Saul's life was turned upside down. He had spoken directly with God. He had discovered that the task to which he had committed himself was, in fact, contrary to the will of God. His authority and energy had been replaced by blindness. Instead of leading others he was now dependent upon others to lead him by the hand. Food and beverage were minor concerns compared with the mental and spiritual adjustments which loomed before him.

10 And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.
11 And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth,
12 And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.
13 Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:
14 And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.

[Arise and go] The Lord was explicitly preparing both men for this encounter. Saul was told the name of the person who was to come to him and what was to happen. Ananias was told the name of the person he was to seek out and what he was to do. Before Saul's experience on the road to Damascus each had good reason to fear the other. It does not appear that Ananias had heard about Saul's conversion.

15 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:
16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.

[Go thy way] During the vision Ananias had argued a little with the Lord about the danger of his mission. The Lord interrupted Ananias by repeating the command to "Go.": Such reluctance is not unusual when God calls us to do something which we perceive as difficult. See Exodus 3:1-22, Exodus 4:1-17.

17 And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
18 And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.
19 And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.
20 And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.
21 But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?
22 But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.

[Ananias went his way] Ananias passed the test of faith. He trusted that the Lord would protect him and did as God had commanded. That day Ananias had the privilege of participating in the initiation of the career of one of God's most outstanding servants.

[And he received sight forthwith] Saul's eyes had been covered with opaque scales, most likely a layer of burned tissue covering his corneas. The scales broke up and flushed off leaving clear cornea below. Saul did mention a thorn in the flesh which troubled him the remainder of his life. Some speculate that it may have been residual damage to the retinas resulting in poor eyesight. The Bible does not describe Saul's physical infirmity. 2 Corinthians 12:7-9.

[And was baptized] Saul's conversion immediately led him to publicly align himself with all other Christian Jews. This was a major step because it made him an especially high value target for persecutors such as he himself had been shortly before. Shame on Christians today who are members of the church universal but who are unwilling for whatever reason to make a public profession and join a local congregation here on earth.

[Then was Saul certain days with the disciples] Can you imagine the conversations that must have taken place? Saul was highly trained in the Law and the Prophets (Jewish Old Testament) and without a doubt knew most of the references to Messiah by memory. How could he and the other teachers have missed understanding that Jesus was Messiah? Questions such as, " The Bible plainly states in Micah 5:2 that Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, yet Jesus is known to be from Nazareth, in the region of Galilee at the opposite end of Israel. How can this be?" If this really was one of the questions asked by Saul the disciples would have explained that Jesus was born in Bethlehem but grew up in Nazareth. Luke 2:1-6.

[And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues,] Saul was a quick study and soon was able to convincingly teach from the Scriptures that Jesus of Nazareth was Messiah, Son of God. It was the custom in the synagogues that at a certain time during the service gentlemen from the audience were invited to share insights which they felt might be useful to the congregation. We see examples of both Jesus and Paul making use of these opportunities to teach. Luke 4:16-21, Acts 13:14-16.


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This page updated 04/20/2008

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