“Paul’s Conversion and Commission”
We’ve had Stephen’s martyrdom, Phillips ministry, and now Paul’s conversion and commission.
Paul’s conversion comes in connection with an appearance of Christ. And this is a vitally important part of the book of Acts. This story is repeated two other times, in chapters 22 and 26.
In the story …
Christ converts his opponent into an ally.
Christ conquers his enemy
Christ commissions his messenger
Damascus is about 135 miles north of Jerusalem. Saul had good reason to believe that there were Christians in Damascus. They could have been those who fled Jerusalem during the persecution (8:1-4). The Jewish Sanhedrin control Jewish affairs even outside of Palestine. With letters from the high priest, the synagogues of Damascus would have cooperated with Paul to arrest any Christians and bring them to Jerusalem.
Catalyst to Paul’s Conversion
Paul’s conversion occurs in verses 17-19. There are two things mentioned that lead up to his conversion.
First, in Acts 9:3-7, there is the encounter with the risen Christ. And second, there is a period of preparation (9:8-9).
Paul and those with him were coming near to Damascus, after 6-8 days of travel, there was a blinding light that caused him to fall to the ground.
Paul sees Jesus here (Acts 9:17, 27; 22:14; 26:16; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:8). But those with Paul saw only light (Acts 22:9) and heard the voice (Acts 9:7) but did not understand it (22:9).
Saul responds with the question, “who are you Lord?” He did not yet know who he was speaking to, so this address as “Lord” is likely a reference to “sir.”
Jesus identifies himself as the one whom Saul is persecuting. If you strike at somebody’s body, you are striking them. The church is the body of Christ. Saul is persecuting the church. Therefore Saul is persecuting Christ. See Luke 10:16; and Corinthians 8:11-12; Matthew 10:40-42; 25:35-45. This is a comfort for those who are persecuted.
In the KJV and NKJV last phrase of verse five, “it is hard for you to kick against the goads” is not likely a part of the original text but was added from Acts 26:14.
Paul then asks in verse six what the Lord wants him to do. And the Lord tells him to go into the city … city of Damascus, and it will be told what you must do.
So this is the first catalyst to Saul’s conversion: an encounter with the risen Savior.
Now secondly verses 8-9, there is a period of preparation. Saul obeys Jesus and he gets up from the ground and his traveling companions led him into Damascus and he could not see and did not eat or drink for three days.
As we’ve seen, baptism in the book of Acts immediately follows salvation. Saul is not yet baptized; so we can safely conclude that he is not yet converted. Yet he fasts, likely as a sign of repentance (Neh. 1:4).
The foil in this story is in Acts 9:10-16 when Ananias ‘discusses the issue with Jesus. We are not surprised at his reluctance. Notice he doesn’t resist, rather respectfully reminds the Lord about what this Saul was known for.
Now Paul’s conversion in Acts 9:17-19 … Ananias calls him “brother.” And Ananias comes to restore Saul’s sight and that he be filled with the Holy Spirit. These are two sides the same coin it seems. The text doesn’t say that he is filled with the Holy Spirit, but the regaining of his sight happened so we can say that the other happened as well.
Paul then receives his sight and “scales” are removed and he is baptized. So it is here that he is converted. Ananias calls him brother, he is filled with the Holy Spirit, and he is baptized. He eats, is strengthened, and spends time with the disciples of Damascus, where once he was going to persecute them.
Evidence of Paul’s Conversion
What follows is evidence for Paul’s conversion.
Preaches Christ as the Son of God (v.20)
Amazement of the disciples (v.21)
Saul confounds Jews, proving Jesus as Christ (v. 22)
Disciples help him escape (v25)
Doubt in Jerusalem until Barnabas explains to the apostles his conversion (v. 27)
Continued argumentation in Jesus’ name with further persecution (29)
Disciples again rescue Saul (30)
In this section, Luke is attempting to prove the genuineness of Paul’s conversion. He tells us that by the way he structures his narrative.
Just like Ananias hesitated to believe that Saul was truly converted (Acts 9:13-14), so also the disciples in Jerusalem were afraid of Saul (9:26).
Just like the Lord reassured Ananias to go to Saul (9:13-15), so also Barnabas reassures the Jerusalem Christians (9:27)
Saul is with the disciples in Damascus (9:19); he is also with the disciples in Jerusalem (9:28)
Paul preaches in Damascus (9:20-22) and he preaches in Jerusalem (9:20-29)
In Damascus, the Jews tried to kill Paul (9:23-24), so also in Jerusalem, the Jews plot to kill him (9:29)
And both times Paul escapes (9:25, 30)
Likewise, the previous section at the beginning of chapter 9 demonstrates this is well. Both Saul and Ananias have a vision (Acts 9:1-3; 10). Both responded to Jesus in their respective visions (9:4; 10). Both hear Christ (9:4; 11-12) and reply (9:5; 13-14) and in both cases, Christ gives a second response (9:5-6; 15-16). In both cases they obey (9:8; 17).
Just like Ananias had a vision, so also did Saul. Acts 9:1-19 describes his conversion and 9:13-30 confirms that conversion. Ananias is converted; so also is Paul is the point.
Conclusion to Paul’s conversion…
In chapter 9 we have the apostle born out of due time….a late comer. And because of his background, it was difficult for the disciples to receive him. The way this is put together also may tell us that Theophilus has a hard time coming to believe in Paul’s conversion. Paul’s conversion is a powerful apologetic: rising star in Judaism and the prestige to go with it. What would cause someone to turn from that, to embrace a “dead” Messiah?
Because of his conversion, this passage highlights Jesus’ commission of Paul in Acts 9 and it brings the Gentile mission into focus. What now does this mean for the progress of the gospel? He will bear his name before the Gentiles, kings and the sons of Israel, and will suffer.
Repent for salvation
True salvation changes lives
God can convert anybody. Jesus delights in saving ‘hard cases’ to showcase his marvelous grace and then put them into service.
Evidence of salvation more necessary in some cases! [my experience with Mr. [deacon name]…]
Acts 2:47; 6:7; 9:31
Gospel Authentication and Church Expansion in Jerusalem (1:1-6:7)
Gospel Authentication and Church Expansion in Judea and Samaria (6:8-9:31)
Next, we begin the third major section in Acts.
Outline from Talbert, 85. ↑