This chapter in Acts is one of the most significant in all of Scripture because the enemy of the Cross is confronted with the risen Lord. There are many different “kinds of conversions”, but according to Jesus, there’s only one kind that is authentic—where the seed of the word is planted on good soil and thus brings in a harvest of kingdom fruit, be it 30, 60, or a 100 fold.
The text reads of Saul in verses 1-2:
Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, 2 and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
There’s nothing more resolute than a religious zealot for here, belief fuels all of life, and such conviction can’t be bought nor bribed to compromise—usually. Saul was a zealot but his encounter with the resurrected Christ would forever change the course of his life and that of the Gentile world. While Saul could not be bought, he would be broken as Jesus’ interrogation ensued:
3 As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6 but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” 7 The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
This is the event where Saul converted to the Way where he became a disciple of Christ. This was as radical as it gets. One author has commented on Saul’s conversion to be akin to the catholic Pope converting to Protestantism, this was huge but so is He who conquered the grave.
Jesus had to prepare the disciple Ananias of Damascus to receive Saul because there’s no way he could believe that this murderous zealot was genuinely converted (vv.10-14). Jesus however assured Ananias of Saul’s purpose:
15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Vv.15-16)
Plainly Jesus describes Saul’s ministry call and the suffering allotted to him because of the Name. Jesus is hammering the issue of persecution because of the Name which comes from religious and pagan people alike (Mt.5:9-12). Up to this point, persecution seems to be the norm, not the exception in Acts. Not only does Ananias give Saul back his sight, but he immediately begins to proclaim the risen Jesus in the synagogues that, “He is the Son of God”…and proving that Jesus is the Christ (Vv.17-22). It’s as if Saul’s temporary physical blindness served as a reminder of his spiritual sightlessness concerning Jesus.
On two occasions we read that the Jews were plotting to kill Saul because of his message (Vv.23, 29). When Jesus said, “You are either for me or against me” the hearer must not understand it’s actually a matter of life or death. Side with Christ now and eternal life is assured with persecution and temporary death. Come against Jesus now, and eternal doom is assured with temporary life.
If this is the case and Christ’s enemies have no chance, why then don’t they bow the knee to the Master? They also can’t see as was true of Saul. Spiritual blindness is lethal and satanic forces are all too glad to assist. Interestingly, while Saul boldly preached Christ, he did not desire to die as is evidenced by his two escapes from death in Damascus and Jerusalem. He did not have a death wish even though he was consumed with God’s zeal in truth and in deed.
The marvel of Saul’s conversion should not be missed. Consider how the disciples feared him (Vv.21, 26-27) and if it were not for Barnabus, Saul’s reception among the disciples would have taken much longer. We must nevertheless remember that the God of the living raises the walking dead. Saul’s an example of just that. We ought never to loose heart but always pray as Jesus commanded because of who God is. For in God’s time and providence many of our requests will be the means through which God ushers souls into the kingdom. What a Savior!