Saul, Saul, Why Are You Persecuting Me?
As he was traveling to Damascus, Saul of Tarsus beheld a great light and heard a heavenly voice: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” In this brief clip, R.C. Sproul demonstrates what this intimate address reveals about Jesus’ relationship to His church.
And so, we read in verse three of chapter nine, “As he journeyed, he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’” Let me take a minute to give some exposition of that particular question that he hears. The first thing is that Paul sees a blinding light that elsewhere is called more brilliant than the noonday sun, and the response that he has is to fall to the ground. Now we know that the light that he beheld was the radiant glory, the Shekinah glory of God Himself, to which the Scriptures attest over and over again as the outward display or manifestation of His inner character. And so, Saul sees this blinding light in the sky and falls to the ground, and he hears—as we are told elsewhere—he hears this voice speaking to him in the Hebrew language. And the voice says to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
Now, there are two things I want to say about that voice that he hears. The first thing is that when Saul is addressed by the heavenly voice, he’s addressed in terms of the repetition of his name: “Saul, Saul.” Search the Scriptures and see how many times in the Bible anybody is addressed for any reason by the repetition of their name. You will discover that it occurs less than twenty times in the whole scope of redemptive history. And if you would examine each of the occurrences that are recorded for us, you would see something emerge very clearly. When Moses was called in the Mideonite wilderness, God called out of the burning bush, “Moses, Moses.” When Abraham was at Mount Mariah and was just about to stab his son on the altar, the voice of God came to him, saying, “Abraham, Abraha.” When Elisha stood on the earth and watched the ascent of Elijah, he said, “My father, my father, the chariots of Israel!” When David mourned the loss of his son, he cried “Absalom, Absalom, my son, my son!” Jesus on the cross, “Eli, Eli, lema sabacthani.” Over and over and over again we see this, and it’s always an expression, in the Hebrew tongue, of profound personal intimacy. That’s why Jesus at the end of the Sermon on the Mount said that many people on the last day would come and say, “Lord, Lord”—that is, their hypocrisy would be clothed in this hypocritical form of the repeated address, claiming intimacy with Jesus. Not just a passing knowledge of Him—they’ll say, “Lord, Lord!” Jesus will say, “Depart from Me; I never knew you.” And so, what this voice is saying to Saul is, “Saul, I know you; I know everything about you. I know you intimately, and I love you. But why are you persecuting Me?”
Now notice the question isn’t “Why are you persecuting My church.” it’s “Why are you persecuting Me?” Because the church is the body of Christ. It is the bride of Christ. And anyone who attacks His bride is attacking Him. Anyone who assaults His body is assailing Him. And even in these words, we learn much of Jesus’ view of His relationship to His body, the church. Because Saul had not been personally attacking Jesus—He had never met Jesus before. But He was laying waste the body of Christ. And so now the voice says to him, “Why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?”
I don’t know which form of the concept “Lord,” he was using. This may simply be the polite form of address saying, “Who are you, sir?” But given the circumstances of the blinding radiance of the refulgent glory of God, I suspect that Paul, or Saul at this point, knew instantly that whoever it was who was speaking to him was his sovereign Lord.