“Saul Meets Jesus, the Lord of Glory”–Acts 9:1-31
We have now come to the chapter that ready starts off the narrative about the main character in the rest of the Book of Acts. As the reader will notice, our study for this month centers on only the first 31 verses of the 9th -chapter. Verses 32-43 will be covered in the next article. We ask that the reader have his or her Bible ready as the events in the life of Paul come into view.
SAUL’S LIFE PRIOR TO THE EXPERIENCE ON THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS
At this time we want to cover some of the events in the life of Saul of Tarsus prior to his becoming a Christian. We must go to other scriptural sources for our material). In Philippians 3:5, Paul wrote,
“… Circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee.”
In Acts 25:4-5, Luke writes,
“So, then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem; since they have known about me for a long time previously, if they are willing~ to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according! To the strictest sect of our religion.”
In Acts 22:3, Dr. Luke writes,
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the laws of our fathers, being zealous of God just as you all are today.”
In Galatians 1:13-14, Paul wrote these words.
“For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more zealous for my ancestral traditions.”
The reason that we have taken the time to cite these references is that Luke, in the account in the 9th of Acts, does not give us much detail. In Acts 22:3, Paul cites his birthplace as Tarsus of Cilicia. Concerning this city, Gareth Reese writes,
Tarsus was then a center of Creek learning, almost rivaling Athens and Alexandria; and on account of its situation on a navigable river (the Cydnus River), and near the mountain passes leading into the Interior of Asia Minor to the north, and of Syria to the east, it was a center of extensive commerce.
It seems that Saul received both a Greek and a Jewish education. He was versed in the history of both cultures. Also every Jewish boy would he taught a trade. According to Acts 18:3, Saul’s was tent making. We’re told that he was a Roman citizen. This would come in handy for him in later years.
Paul tells us that he was brought up in the city of Jerusalem. He studied under Gamaliel. It is evident that he was well versed in the doctrines and traditions of the Pharisees. It is thought that Saul was a member of the Sanhedrin. This comes from Acts 26:10 which reads,
“And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prison, having received authority from the Chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them.”
Whether Saul of Tarsus was a member of the Sanhedrin, we can only guess. It is with this background material behind us, that we begin our study of the 9th chapter of Acts, verses 1-31.
SAUL PERSECUTES THE CHURCH ACTS 9:1
After the death of Stephen, the persecution of the Lord’s people became greater. This persecution was led by Saul of Tarsus. Saul was not content with speaking out against the Way. He sought to erase, from the face of the earth, the followers of Jesus, the Nazarene. He was not content to battle the saints in Jerusalem alone. He wanted to pursue the followers of Jesus even to Damascus.
SAUL SEEKS LETTERS OF AUTHORITY FROM THE SANHEDRIN: ACTS 9:2
Saul of Tarsus, a zealous defender of the Pharisees, thought that what he was doing was the will of Jehovah God in opposing the Way. Concerning Saul’s motivation in this manner, Robert L Maddox Jr., in The Layman’s Bible Book Commentary, had this to say,
“Not content to harass the Christians in Jerusalem, Saul received permission from the High Priest to go to Damascus to arrest and extradite followers of the Way, both men and women, back to Jerusalem for trial and judgment. Glad to have such a zealous advocate on their side, the High Priest and his cohorts gladly gave Saul the necessary papers.”
Thus Saul, with the backing of the Sanhedrin, left, with a company of men, bound for Damascus, to further persecute the saints of the Living Savior.
SAUL’S JOURNEY TO DAMASCUS: ACTS 9:3
Saul had left Jerusalem with the backing of the Sanhedrin. J. W. McGarvey had this to say about Saul’s trip to Damascus,
“The distance from Jerusalem to Damascus is about one hundred and forty miles. The most usual route to travel was northward along the dividing ridge of the mountain range through Bethel and Shechem to Jezreel; thence westward to Bethshan on the bluff leading down to the Jordan valley; thence up that valley to a stone bridge across the Jordan which is still standing to this day; and thence along the elevated plateau cast of the Jordan valley to Damascus. During the last day’s journey the road passes along the eastern base of Mount Hermon, whose snow-capped summit hounds the horizon on the left.”
As Saul neared Damascus, Luke tells us that “suddenly a light from Heaven flashed around him.” What was happening to Saul of Tarsus?
SAUL MEETS JESUS, THE LORD OF GLORY: ACTS 9:4-19
Here in verse 4, Luke tells us that after the appearance of the light Saul fell to the ground. He heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, Why Are you persecuting Me?” Here, Jesus Christ makes it personal. Saul had not only been persecuting mere mortals, he had been persecuting the Lord of Glory Himself. To persecute Christians is to persecute Christ. In verse 5 Saul asks the voice to identify himself. The answer comes back, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” J.W. McGarvey wrote these words,
“It s impossible for us, who have been familiar with the glory of the risen Christ from infancy, to fully realize the thoughts and feelings which flashed like lightning into the soul of Saul, on hearing these words. Up to this moment he had held Jesus to be an impostor cursed of God and man, and His followers blasphemers worthy of death: but now this hated being is suddenly revealed to him in a blaze of divine glory. The evidence of eyes and ears cannot be doubted. There He stands, with the light of heaven and the glory of Cod around him, and He says, ‘I am Jesus.’ Stephen was right and I have shed innocent blood.”
In verse 6, Saul is told to go to the city and “it shall be told you what you must do.” Saul of Tarsus was not saved on the Road to Damascus. This is clear by the text and other sources in the New Covenant writings.
Verse 7 informs us that Saul’s companions heard the voice but saw no one. It is possible that, although they heard the voice, they did not understand it. Verse 8 tells us that Saul got up. His eyes were open but he was blind. He was led into the city by the hand. We’re told in verse 9 that Saul went three days without sight, food, or water.
In Acts 9:10 ·we’re told of Ananias. He is introduced as a certain disciple. The Lord appeared unto him in a vision. Ever ready to serve the Risen Lord, Ananias said, “Behold, here am I, Lord.” In verse 11 we see the instructions that Jesus had for His servant Ananias. He tells him to go to the street that is called Straight and inquire at the house of Judas for Saul of Tarsus. We’re told that Saul is praying. Verse 12 tells us that Saul has had a vision of the upcoming arrival of Ananias. In verse 13, Ananias tells the Lord of Glory that he has heard about the person of Saul and his background. Continuing in verse 14 we have the statement that Saul did what he did by the authority of the chief priests.
In verses 15 and 16, we read these words, “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; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My Name’s sake.'” Although Ananias is afraid to go to Saul because of the persecution here in these two verses we see the purpose of God for Saul. Even though Saul had been persecuting Jesus and His followers, Jesus still had plans for Saul. Saul was to do great things for the Lord of Glory.
In verse 17, Ananias left his home and went to seek out Saul of Tarsus. He then laid hands on Saul. He informed Saul that it was the Lord Jesus that had sent him, the same Jesus who appeared to him on the road. He told him that his sight would be restored and that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit. Nowhere up to here does it say that Saul was saved.
In connection with verse 18 we want to consider Acts 22:16. Acts 9:18 reads as follows, “And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he arose and was baptized.” Acts 22:16, “And now why do you delay? Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His Name.’‘
We’re known as a people who stress the teaching of the whole counsel, so we should be willing to let the entire teaching on salvation be known. The New Testament teaches that certain conditions must be met before we can be saved. That there are conditions required does not negate the doctrine that salvation is completely by grace. To receive this grace of God, we must meet certain conditions. We do not teach a law-gospel as some do. We can know that we are saved NOW! We do not have to wait until eternity to see if the scales are tipped in our direction. Saul of Tarsus was saved in the same way you and I are today. Saul believed that Jesus was Lord. Because of this faith, Saul repented of his past sins, and he had a lot to repent of.
Saul was willing to follow the commandments of Jesus by being immersed into His Lord. Saul received the forgiveness of his sins. And last but not least Saul received the promised indwelt Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who enables us to live the Christian life. He is a person.
Praise God that we have always been taught that the Holy Spirit is a real person not one who is identified with the Bible. Yes, some have gone so far as to say that the Holy Spirit and the Bible were one in the same. They put it this way, “The Holy Spirit does not operate outside of the Word of God.” We’re sure any honest Bible student will admit that the Holy Spirit does not operate contrary to the Word, but they are not the same. So much for the personal commentary. Let’s get back to the life of Saul of Tarsus.
SAUL BEGINS TO PROCLAIM THAT JESUS IS THE CHRIST: ACTS 9:20-22
Only a few days after his conversion, Saul began to proclaim Jesus as Lord. Verse 21 informs us that those who heard him were amazed. They knew of Saul’s past life and his hatred for the followers of Jesus and his contempt for Jesus Himself. Verse 22 tells us that Saul continued to increase in strength and continued to confound the Jews by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
SAUL’S JOURNEY TO ARABIA: GALATIANS 1:15-17
We must, at some time , account for the time that Paul spent in Arabia. In Galatians 1:15-17, we read the following, “But when lie who had set me apart, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up unto Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.”
This seems the logical place to put these events. We place them here in the first phrase of Acts 9:23. It seems that shortly after his conversion, the Lord led him to Arabia. Paul tells us that it was not through any human that he was called to preach. Paul got his Gospel directly from God, not through the intervention of men. We must assume that while he was in Arabia he received direct revelations from the Lord of Glory. It is thought that the time spent there was close to three years. Paul mentions that number in Galatians 1:18. There he says that it was three years after his conversion that he went to Jerusalem. We must return now to Acts 9.
SAUL’S ESCAPE FROM DAMASCUS AND THE JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM: ACTS 9:23-29
“After many days had elapsed.” It is here that many writers have put the events that we have outlined in the previous paragraph. Saul returned to Damascus, the place of his conversion, ready to proclaim that Jesus was the Christ. He had received his call from Jesus Himself. Because of the influence be was having in his preaching the Jews decided it was time to silence him for good. In verse 24 we’re told that Saul became aware of the plot to kill him. The Jews were watching gates daily and also by night. They figured that if he tried to leave they would kill him. In verse 25 we see Saul of Tarsus escaping from the city of Damascus by being lowered in a basket through an opening in the wall.
Verse 26 informs us that Saul was now in Jerusalem. The apostles did not want anything to do with him. They did not think he was a disciple. In verse 27 Barnabas stood up and defended Saul of Tarsus. He told them how Saul met the Lord and how he had testified for the Lord in Damascus. Verse 28 tells us that Saul was speaking boldlyabout Jesus. We find Saul dealing with the Hellenistic Jews. It tells us that they were attempting to kill him. What would happen?
SAUL GOES TO TARSUS: ACTS 9:30-31
In verse 30 we’re told that after the brethren discovered that the Hellenistic Jews were attempting to kill Saul they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. There Saul had a fruitful ministry. According to Galatians 2:1, it was to be fourteen years later when Paul came back to Jerusalem. We do not read about Saul again in the Book of Acts until the 11th chapter.
In Acts 9:31, we read that the churches in the area were continuing to enjoy peace and increased growth. Our next article will finish out the 9th chapter of Acts. It will be called “Peter’s work in Lydda.”