Paul Sees the Lord Part 2 of 3
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
Let us go back to the sixth chapter, and to verses eight and nine: “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people. Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.” This means that Stephens’s conflict was with the Hellenists, not the Hebrews. His marvelous speech was against Hellenism. Stephen’s fight was not with Phariseeism. But we should be fair to Phariseeism. The imperfections of Phariseeism were its self-sufficiency, its boastfulness, and its contempt for others; but the heart of Phariseeism was spiritual, a defense of spiritual religion against rationalism. Stephen’s fight was with Sadduceeism. Saul had probably heard that great defense given by Stephen; and all his pharisaic sympathy would have been with Stephen. As he listened to Stephen, he heard a man emphasizing the spirituality of religion and charging the Sanhedrim and the Jewish nation with turning away from spiritual things. Yet he had consented to his death, and had seen him die; and the manner of his death, which showed the great depth of his faith created within him belief in the supernatural aspect of religion. He had seen a man bloody from the stones hurled at him, bruised and battered and beaten, the light of life leaving his body, with his face lit with a glorious light, and he heard his declaration that he had seen into the world beyond, where the living Son of God had watched the whole thing, as he stood by God the Father. This man was fighting against a strange upheaval in his mind in which was mingled mental questioning, inquiries, wonderings, and amazement.
The mental mood of Saul of Tarsus is revealed by the words, “Saul was breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord.” We have the picture here of a fierce man filled with murderous desire and determined to stamp out the Nazarene heresy, a man definitely appointed as the public prosecutor of Christianity. Saul of Tarsus was probably in his early thirties at this time. He would certainly be bilingual, and able to converse in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic.
2 And desired of him letters to Damascus to the
Why did Saul choose the city of Damascus over all other cities” Was it because a larger number of Christians fled to that area? At the beginning of the revolt in a.d. 66, 18,000 were massacred by the Damascenes. From the time of Pompey, who took possession of the city in 63 b.c., Damascus had been in the Roman province of Syria. It has been estimated that there were thirty to forty synagogues in the city. The fact that there were already believers there shows how effective the church had been at getting out the message. Some of the believers may have fled the persecution in Jerusalem, which explains why Paul wanted the authority to bring them back. Believers were still identified with the Jewish synagogues, for the break with Judaism would not come for a few years. (See James 2:2, where “assembly” is “synagogue” in the original Greek.)
As the official prosecutor of Christianity, he had obtained letters from the high priest, and was on his way to Damascus to arrest men and women and put them in prison; but he was “kicking against the pricks*,” he was fighting against conviction. His objective was to apprehend the Christians living in the city of Damascus, however, God can take the worst intentions of men, and make them work for His purposes—He would apprehend Saul instead.
*Some versions have “goad,” a stick with a pointed end for driving cattle; kicking it would only drive it deeper.
The authority of the highest Jewish council was behind him—“As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished” (Acts 22:5). According to 1 Macc. 15:15, the Romans had granted to the high priest the right of extraditing to Jerusalem Jewish malefactors who had fled abroad. This would cover the case of Christians from Jerusalem, who had taken refuge in Damascus, and the reference here is probably to this group rather than the residents of Damascus.
3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
Damascus, the capital city of Samaria, was located sixty miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea, and about 160 miles northeast of Jerusalem.
The first stage in the apprehension of Saul occurred when a light brighter than the sun shined out of heaven and enveloped him. The lightening-swift light, brighter than Syria’s noon-day sun, could only be the Shekinah glory, which is indicative of the divine presence. Tradition says that this incident occurred at a bridge near the city.
In order to appreciate Saul’s emotions at this time, it is necessary to remember that he was convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was dead and buried in a Judean grave. Since the leader of the sect had been destroyed, all that was now necessary was to destroy his followers. Then the earth would be free of this scourge.
4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
The second stage in the apprehension of Saul came in the form of an inquiry. A voice spoke, not in Greek, but in the Hebrew tongue, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” It was a voice out of heaven, out of the light, asking him, a man on earth, why he persecuted the One who spoke. What a strange thing, and what a startling thing! But there is another meaning in the words, “why persecutest thou me?” The Lord may have been implying, I am above you in the heavens; you cannot undo my work; that which you are fighting against is not the fanaticism of a mistaken fanatic; it is the march of God through human history. The question had even another great significance, because it shows the union of Christ with his church. The Lord did not ask, “Why do you persecute My church?” The reference to “Me” gave Saul his first glimpse into the doctrine of Christians being in Christ.
The men with him also “fell to the earth” (Acts 26:14) and heard the sound, but they could not understand the words spoken from heaven. They stood to their feet in bewilderment (v. 7). Some thirty years later, Paul wrote that Christ had “apprehended him” on the Damascus road (Phil. 3:12).
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.
We see here the ignorance of Saul. He was probably the most brilliant man of his day, but he did not know the Lord Jesus Christ. He asked, “Who art thou, Lord?” Dear reader, to know Him is life, and Saul didn’t know him. In spite of his great learning (Acts 26:24), Saul was spiritually blind (2 Cor. 3:12-18), and did not understand what the Old Testament really taught about the Messiah. Like many others of his countrymen, he stumbled over the Cross (1 Cor. 1:23), because he depended on his own righteousness and not on the righteousness of God (Rom. 9:30-10:13; Phil. 3:1-10). Many self-righteous religious people today do not see their need for a Savior and resent it if you tell them they are a sinner. The use of the word “Lord,” however, revealed his recognition of being in the presence of a manifestation of supremacy. When the light came, and the voice spoke, prejudices departed, and all the antagonism that heated the fever heat of his hostility ended. He was in the presence of supremacy and he admitted it as he said, Lord.
Saul was astonished, because he couldn’t find a source for the voice. Oh, the revolution, the convulsion, the upheaval in the soul of Saul. Then the most fascinating thing occurred. The voice replied, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” It is as though Christ had said to him, those men and women whom you have hauled off to prison have suffered; but it is I who have suffered in their suffering, Saul. The brutal stones that you saw hurled at Stephen, cut into his flesh and caused him pain, which reached Me, and caused Me pain. I felt every throb of Stephens’s pain. Pain inflicted on the members of the body on earth was felt by the Head of the body in heaven. That Saul both saw and heard this glorious Speaker is a fact expressly stated by Ananias (v. 17; 22:14), by Barnabas (9:27), and by himself (Acts 26:16); and when claiming apostleship he explicitly states that he “had seen the Lord” (1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8).
Who was Jesus to Saul of Tarsus? He was a dead man, disgraced, and hated! But the Jesus he thought was dead had just spoken to him—He was alive; he had been raised from the dead. The Jesus he thought was disgraced was at the center of heavenly glory—He has been glorified at the right hand of God in heaven! It was this sight of the glorified Savior that changed the entire direction of his life. He realized now that not only all his religious views, but his whole religious character, had been an entire mistake that he was up to that moment fundamentally and wholly wrong. The Jesus that he hated spoke to him in the language of indescribable love. No wonder this man never looked back. It was a great arrest, a great apprehension.