Saul Proclaims Jesus as the Christ Part 1 of 3

by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)

March 12, 2014

Acts of the Apostles



Lesson III.B.3: Saul Proclaims Jesus as the Christ (9:19b-30)


Scripture

19b Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.
20 Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.
21 Then all who heard were amazed, and said, "Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?"
22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.
23 Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him.
24 But their plot became known to Saul. And they watched the gates day and night, to kill him.
25 Then the disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket.
26 And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple.
27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.
28 So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out.
29 And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him.
30 When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus.


Introduction

The newly converted Saul persuasively preached Christ in the Damascus synagogue, to the amazement of all who had known him as an enemy of Christ (vv. 20-22). Learning of a plot against his life, Saul escaped to Jerusalem, where Barnabas insured the Christians that he had been genuinely converted (vv. 23-27). Soon, however, people in Jerusalem were trying to kill him, so he returned to Tarsus, his hometown (vv. 28-30).The year was A.D. 38, three years after his conversion.


Commentary

19b Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.
20 Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.
21 Then all who heard were amazed, and said, "Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?"
22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.

The passage begins by taking brief notice of Saul spending several days with the disciples in Damascus after his baptism, which seems to imply that they opened their hearts and homes to him. This was probably time spent acquainting him with the principles and teachings of Christianity. Even though Saul was a Pharisee and rabbi thoroughly steeped in the Jewish religion and the Old Testament and knew some things about Christ and this new religion from his experience as a persecutor of the faith, he was still a new convert and needed instruction in the teachings of Christ before he could strike out on his own as a witness for Him. Evidentially, he was a quick learner because we find him immediately entering the Damascus synagogues (of which there were many) and preaching that Jesus is the Son of God (v. 20). Why was he able to witness immediately? Because he was filled with the Holy Spirit. These were the very same synagogues to which he had been accredited by the high priest for a very different purpose. Bewilderment resulted among his Jewish hearers. They had understood that he hated the name of Jesus. Now he was teaching that Jesus was God. How could it be?

It is interesting that Luke mentions Saul preaching that Christ is the Son of God. This is the only place in the New Testament where this Title of Christ is found. However, Saul connects this term with his call as an apostle recorded in Galatians 1:16 and Romans 1:1-4. Luke’s close connection of Saul’s conversion and call with this title of Christ would seem to be an accurate recollection of Saul’s distinctive views.

The believers in Damascus reacted to word of Saul’s conversion the same way Ananias did (vv. 13-14); they couldn’t believe that a man like Saul could ever go through such a radical turn-around. But this only made Saul preach more forcefully. It could be that his zeal as a Christian witness exceeded his zeal as a persecutor of Christians. Luke even describes him as using his theological training to good advantage by proving (v. 22) that this Jesus is the Christ. The Greek word translated proving means to join or put together and seems to picture him putting together the Old Testament prophesies with their fulfillment and using them to prove that Jesus was the Christ. No wonder the Damascus believers were astonished and unable to find any error in the skillful preaching of this former student of Gamaliel. The two basic teachings in his preaching were That Jesus was the Christ, and that Jesus was the Son of God. Saul had gone to Damascus to persecute the church; he ended up preaching Jesus. What a contrast! What grace!

We have another picture of Saul’s experience following his conversion in Galatians 1:15-17: "But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus." He did not consult with anyone, or go to Jerusalem to confer with the apostles. He went into Arabia for an unspecified time, and then returned to Damascus. I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood does not rule out Saul’s communication with The Damascus Christians or the Jewish synagogue. The “conferring” he alludes to was the idea that he had received his apostolic credentials and his apostleship from the apostles in Jerusalem. No, said Saul, he did not go to Jerusalem to confer with the apostles there and receive instructions from them. In Galatians, Saul did not hesitate to emphasize in the face of his Judaizing opponents that his apostleship to the Galatians was a direct call from God, and in no way was dependent on or subservient to the apostles in Jerusalem. Acts would certainly support that picture. For some reason, Luke did not mention the Arabian period (Gal. 1:15-17). Perhaps he did not know about it, or he may have chosen not to deal with it at this time, and instead concentrate on the Jewish opposition to Saul and the persecution that resulted.

Both Luke here and Saul in his Epistles picture a radical conversion experience. Saul, the persecutor was stopped dead on the Damascus road. The risen Jesus showed himself to Saul, and this experience was proof enough for him that the Christians were being truthful, and he was completely turned around in his thinking, and changed from persecutor to witness. Only one category can describe Saul’s experience; it was a miracle, the result of direct divine action. When all is said and done, both Acts and Saul give strikingly similar accounts of Saul’s conversion. Both speak of Saul’s former life as a persecutor of the Church (1 Cor. 15:9), and even use the same words to describe how he “ravaged” it (Gal. 1:13). Both speak of his intense zeal (Phil. 3:6). Both place the conversion in Damascus (Gal. 1:17). Both describe the experience as a vision of the risen Lord (1 Cor. 15:8-9; 9:1; cf. 2 Cor. 4:6). Both mention him referring to Christ as the “Son of God” immediately after his conversion (Gal. 1:16; Acts 9:20). For both, it was a radical turn-around (Phil. 3:6-7). For Saul and Luke a totally different man emerged from that vision of the risen Lord; and that, dear reader, is conversion.

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