Saul was so vigorous in persecuting the church that he traveled great distances and searched every house to seek out Christians. But on his way to Damascus to persecute the Christians there, a miracle occurred—a miracle so great that it turned his life around. The Lord Jesus appeared to him, blinded him, and revealed to him that He was the one Saul had been persecuting. After receiving instructions from Ananias, Paul was baptized and received the Holy Spirit. Immediately afterwards, he began to preach Jesus. The chief enemy of the church had become a champion of the gospel. The conversion of Saul laid the groundwork for the spreading of the gospel to the end of the earth.
Did You Know...?
1. Damascus (9:2) was the capital of Syria, situated about 160 miles north-east of Jerusalem. The journey from Jerusalem to Damascus took at least six days on foot. Many scattered Christians went there because it was a place where their beliefs were tolerated. Because of the large number of Christians in this city, Saul chose to go to Damascus to launch his attacks against Christians.
2. Goads (9:5): The goad was a pointed instrument with a long handle. It was used to urge on the oxen when plowing. Shamgar used one as a weapon and killed 600 Philistines (Judg 3:31). [ref] . As a familiar instrument in daily life (1Sam 13:21), the ox goad had been used as an analogy for the teachings of the wise that stimulated thought (Ecc 12:11) [ref]
3. The street called Straight (9:11) was a 100-foot wide street that connected the East Gate to the West Gate.
4. Tarsus (9:11) was the capital of Cilicia. Together with Athens and Alexandria they formed the three main cultural centers in the Roman Empire at that time. Saul was born here (Acts 21:39; 22:3), and so he was called “Saul of Tarsus”.
- The Lord Appeared to Saul (9:1-9)
- The Lord Sent Ananias (9:10-16)
- Saul’s Healing and Conversion (9:17-19)
- Saul Preached Christ in Damascus (9:20-25)
- Saul Preached Christ in Jerusalem (9:26-30)
- Effect on the Churches (9:31)
Where was Saul going, and why?Hide Answer
Saul was journeying to Damascus. He had obtained authority from the high priest so that he might arrest any disciples in Damascus.
Consider the long distance that Saul traveled. What does this tell you about Saul?Hide Answer
In his misguided zeal for God, Saul did not think it was enough to just persecute the Christians in Jerusalem. He was so committed to his cause that he was willing to travel as far as Damascus to accomplish his goal.
Why do you think the Christian faith was called “the Way” (vs. 2; 19:9,23; 22:4; 24:14,22)?Hide Answer
The gospel that the disciples preached was concerning the way of salvation (Acts 16:17) and the way of God (Acts 18:25-26). In fact, the Lord Jesus called Himself “the way.” (Jn 14:6). Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ required obedience to the way of salvation through Jesus Christ and conforming to a new way of life (cf. Acts 2:37,38,40).
How did the Lord Jesus reveal Himself to Saul?Hide Answer
Jesus shone on a light from heaven around Saul and spoke directly to him.
What did the Lord ask Saul?Hide Answer
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? (4).
What were the two questions Saul asked the Lord Jesus?Hide Answer
“Who are you, Lord?” (5). “Lord, what do You want me to do?” (6).
How did Saul’s questions show his utter confusion at this point?Hide Answer
It was beyond any doubt that the voice from heaven was that of God. But Saul was confounded by the rebuke from the Lord because it had never occurred to him that he was persecuting God.
When the Lord answered that He was Jesus, Saul was even more confounded. Jesus was actually the very God he thought he was serving! Saul’s past beliefs and fervor had suddenly been shaken to the core. Absolutely not knowing how to respond, he could only ask, “Lord, what do you want me to do?”
What can we learn from the Lord’s response to Saul’s first question?Hide Answer
The Lord answered Saul, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Anyone who persecutes the church and her believers is persecuting Jesus Christ Himself, since the church is the body of Christ (Eph 5:23; Col 1:18). The Lord considers offenses against believers as personal offenses against Himself (Matt 18:5; 25:45; 1Cor 8:12).
The Lord also said, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (cf. Acts 26:14). For Saul to oppose the way of the Lord was as futile as for an ox to resist the goad. Anyone who persecutes the Lord and His church would only hurt himself.
When the Lord had answered Saul’s first question, how did Saul react? Why do you think he reacted this way?Hide Answer
Saul was trembling and astonished (6). At this moment, he realized how mistaken he had been. He had committed the worst offense against God even though he thought he was serving God. His zeal for God had turned out to be a direct persecution against God.
As followers of Christ, why should we also ask the two questions that Saul asked and seek answers to them?Hide Answer
While most of us are not under the same circumstances as Saul, it is important for us to ask the questions he asked. We need to ask, “Who are you, Lord?” We may acknowledge that there is an almighty God, but we also need to understand and accept that Jesus is this God. We need to come to personally accept that Jesus Christ loves us and died for our sins (cf. Gal 2:20). We need to acknowledge Him as the Lord of our lives and submit to His will. It is only when we have established a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that we can truly be His disciples.
Having personally known Jesus Christ as our Lord, we need to then ask, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” If we acknowledge Jesus as the master of our lives, then we ought to live our lives to accomplish His will (2Cor 5:15). We should determine to study and carry out all the teachings of the Bible. When we do not understand certain teachings in the Bible, we can ask the Lord to teach us His ways. We need to ask the Lord to show us His specific purpose for us in our lives. Just as He had a mission for Saul, He also has a specific mission for each of us. Having identified the tasks and gifts the Lord has given to us, we should diligent serve in these areas (cf. Rom 12:6-8)
Why do you think the Lord did not simply tell Saul what He wanted him to do? Why did He tell him to go into the city and wait to be told what to do?Hide Answer
The Lord probably wanted Saul to learn humility and submission. Instead of revealing His will directly to Saul, the Lord told him to wait for Ananias’ instructions. Whereas Saul had intended to imprison the Christians in Damascus, he would now have to rely on a Christian in Damascus to tell him what to do.
Another possible reason is that the Lord meant to show Saul the importance of the fellowship of believers. God did not just speak to Saul, but He also spoke to Ananias. So Saul needed to not only receive instructions from God directly but also join the other believers and learn from them.
Compare the Saul in verses 1-2 and the Saul in verses 8-9. What impact do you think this experience must have on Saul?Hide Answer
The shocking event must have been a humbling experience for Saul. From a man who had great authority and breathed murderous threats, Saul had fallen to the ground, been completely confounded, and become blind. Instead of leading the company of men who went with him, he now had to be led by the hand into Damascus.
What was Saul doing during the three days of waiting and fasting? What can we learn from Saul?Hide Answer
He was praying (11). Saul needed time to be alone with God and to come to terms with the divine revelation that Jesus was God. He must have also sought to know the Lord’s will for him as he waited for instructions. When facing a dilemma or difficult question in our lives, we need to take the time to pray in order to seek for understanding and wait for God’s answer.
What was Ananias’ initial response to the Lord’s instructions?Hide Answer
Ananias was probably surprised by the Lord’s instructions to look for Saul, a mass murderer of Christians. It may also have been that he was hesitant to go. So he told the Lord what he had heard about Saul, including his persecutions of the church and his intentions to arrest Christians in Damascus.
What did the Lord tell Ananias about His purpose for choosing Saul and the future of Saul?Hide Answer
God had chosen Saul to be His vessel to bear His name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. In carrying out the Lord’s mission, Saul would have to suffer many things for the sake of the Lord’s name (15-16).
What lessons can we learn from Ananias?Hide Answer
Ananias was submissive to the Lord’s instructions. Despite his initial reservations, Ananias obeyed the Lord and went to lay hands on Saul. Also, because he honored the will of the Lord, he was willing to let go of his personal prejudices against Saul. Since the Lord had chosen Saul to be His vessel, Ananias gladly put aside all animosity and addressed Saul as “Brother Saul.”
What happened to Saul when Ananias laid hands on him?Hide Answer
Immediately there fell from Saul’s eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once (18).
What did Saul do after his healing?Hide Answer
He arose and was baptized. He received food and was strengthened. Then he spent some days with the disciples at Damascus (18-19).
What did Saul do immediately after his conversion? What can we learn from this?Hide Answer
Immediately Saul started to preach Jesus Christ in the synagogues in Damascus. Even new believers should preach the gospel. We do not have to wait until we are well-versed in the Scripture to start witnessing for the Lord. Like Saul, who increased all the more in strength (22), we can also become more effective witnesses the more we preach the gospel.
What was the message of Saul’s preaching?Hide Answer
Saul preached that Jesus is the Son of God (20) and that He is the Christ (22).
What was the reaction of the Jews who heard Saul’s preaching?Hide Answer
They were amazed that the one who had come to destroy Christians was now preaching Christ.
Compare the Saul in verse 25 with the Saul in verse 1. What lesson do you think Saul had to learn as a convert to the Christian faith?Hide Answer
From a powerful persecutor of Christians, Saul had become a refugee who had to escape persecution and flee at night in a basket. Now that he had become a believer of Jesus Christ, he had to learn to endure sufferings and humiliation for Christ. Just as the Lord had foretold Ananias that Saul would have to suffer many things for His name’s sake, Saul was beginning to experience suffering as a bearer and preacher of Jesus’ name.
How did the disciples in Jerusalem receive Saul at first?Hide Answer
They were afraid and suspicious of him.
What can we learn from Barnabas?Hide Answer
Like Ananias, Barnabas placed the Lord’s will above his personal fears and biases. He knew that the Lord had chosen Saul (27). So he accepted Saul as a brother and introduced him to the apostles. Barnabas built a bridge between Saul and the apostles, opening the way for them to be coworkers in the future. Barnabas’ spirit of reconciliation and building unity is worthy of imitation. Today, we sometimes notice a few individual brothers who seem to have been neglected in the church. We ought to be like Barnabas and be the first to welcome the unwelcome or those who are left out. We should also see the potential gifts in newcomers to the fellowship and help provide opportunities for them to grow through service.
What did Saul do in Jerusalem?Hide Answer
He was with the apostles, coming in and going out. And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists (28-29).
If you, like Saul, try to associate with other believers, and you receive the cold shoulder from them, what would you do? What can you learn from Saul?Hide Answer
Saul did not become discouraged or angry because most of the brethren were suspicious of him. He did not leave the group and try to evangelize on his own. He had personally learned that the believers are one with Christ (9:5) and knew the importance of having fellowship with other believers. So he humbly joined the disciples after Barnabas helped build the bridge between him and the brethren.
As members of Christ’s body, we cannot do without one another (1Cor 12:14-20). There are times when we may feel others do not welcome us or look down on us. But these should not be reasons for us to stay away from the fellowship of believers. We need to be humble, gentle, and bear with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:1,2). If we love the Lord Jesus Christ and recognize that the church is His very own, we will make every effort to strengthen the bond we have with our brothers- and sisters-in-Christ.
What did the Hellenists try to do?Hide Answer
They attempted to kill Saul (29).
What did the disciples do after finding out the Hellenists intentions?Hide Answer
They brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus.
What effect did Saul’s conversion have on all the churches?Hide Answer
The churches had peace and were edified (31).
What does it mean for the church to “walk in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit” (31)?Hide Answer
The phrase “Fearing the Lord” in the Scripture ties in with obeying God’s commandments (cf. Deut 5:29; 8:6; Job 1:8; Ecc 12:13). Walking in the fear of the Lord, therefore, means living our daily lives according to the teachings of the Lord out of our reverence for Him.
The early church had just gone through a period of intense persecution and suffering. But the Holy Spirit was ever present in and among the believers to give them courage and strength (Acts 4:8,31; 7:55). He also worked mightily in the further advancement of the gospel (Acts 8:5-8; 26-40). In the same way, we can also depend on the Holy Spirit as our source of comfort and joy when we undergo trials and oppositions.