The Conversion of Saul

“And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ Then the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’ ” (Acts 9:5a).

- Acts 9:1–9

Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem … Saul had continued his persecution of the Christians to the point that there were few to be found. But Saul was “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Dr. Simon Kistemaker writes that “Everything Paul thinks, says, and does is dominated by his desire to destroy the followers of Jesus.” With the Jerusalem flock scattered, he looked to other towns, and Damascus caught his eye. This city was a large commercial center with a significant Jewish population. It is known that Christianity flourished there early on, and Saul may have feared it could go from there to the entire world. So he went to the high priest, who was the head of the Sanhedrin, the legislative body for Jews everywhere. The high priest could issue warrants for the arrest of Christians in the Damascus synagogues. Thus armed with the authority to arrest believers, Saul set off on the 150-mile journey to Damascus.

But as he approached the city, Saul was struck by a light “from heaven.” In a later account, he described it as “brighter than the sun” (Acts 26:13). It was Jesus appearing to him in heavenly glory. Blinded by the light, he fell to the ground—and then he heard the voice. “ ‘Saul, Saul,’ ” it said, indicating intimate personal address by the repetition, “ ‘why are you persecuting Me?’ ” Saul was able to ask, “ ‘Who are You, Lord?’ ” but it appears he already had a suspicion. And the answer came back, “ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ ”

Jesus’ words are remarkable. He asked Saul why he was persecuting “ ‘Me,’ ” and He said, “ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’ ” Jesus “identifies Himself completely with the believers whom Paul seeks to destroy. Jesus and His followers are one,” Kistemaker writes. Thus, what Saul had done had been against Jesus. He discovered he had done as Gamaliel feared—he had fought against God.

Saul asked what he should do and Jesus told him to get up, go into the city, and await instruction. Saul got up blind. Though his companions heard the voice and presumably saw the light, only he comprehended Jesus’ message and only he was blinded. His companions led him in, and he remained blind for three days. In that time, he fasted completely, and prayed in repentance and faith for reconciliation.

Coram Deo

God stopped Saul in his tracks and can do so with any who oppose Him. But He sometimes allows persecution to buffet His church. Do you believe God can bring good out of hard times for His people? If not, take time to study God’s providence. Ask your pastor or church librarian to recommend further reading on this subject.

Passages for Further Study

Gen. 50:15–21
Prov. 16:33
Rom. 8:28
Eph. 1:11

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.