Saul who becomes Paul
Were you there—when He rose up from the grave?
9. Saul Who Becomes Paul
1 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defence: 2 “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defence against all the accusations of the Jews, 3 and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently. 4 “The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. 5 They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee. 6 And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today. 7 This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. O King, it is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me. 8 Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead? 9 “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.
12 On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 About noon, O King, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ “‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. 16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ 19 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.”
Also refer to—Acts 9:1–19; 22:1–21
Saul Who Becomes Paul
New name and new nature
Saul of Tarsus’ name and nature change after meeting the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Saul, who becomes Paul, is the last person in our focus on those who meet Jesus after He died and rose again. (In the next and final chapter of this book we will look at the risen Redeemer Himself.) Acts 26:8–20 tells what happened, confirmed in Acts 9:1–19; 22:1-21. Paul says, ‘last of all [Jesus] appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born’ (1 Corinthians 15:8). Christ’s appearance to Saul differs from all the others. It happens not only after Jesus has died and risen again: it is also after He ascended to Heaven. Before He appears to Saul, Peter’s sermon has, by the Holy Spirit, produced 3,000 converts from many nations in packed-out Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2:14–41). God also has transformed many weak and new Christians. (He still does when sinners turn from sins and yield to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.) It was after all this that the glory of the resurrected Jesus outshines the mid-day sun, as He appears to Saul. Paul is both the first and the last of all God’s chosen apostles to meet the risen Lord Jesus Christ after His ascension. In fact, he is the only apostle to meet the Lord Jesus Christ after His ascension.
It is interesting to note that, as we have seen, when God the Father’s hand of punishment fell on His Son in our place on the cross, darkness blotted out the mid-day sun. When God’s grace stops Saul, in his persecutions, to become Paul, the brightness and glory of Jesus outshine the mid-day sun as a witness to the conversion of a proud persecutor of the church, who will become an apostle, evangelist, pastor, Bible teacher, and even—by God the Holy Spirit’s influence and inspiration—the most prolific writer of the New Testament Scripture. He will not only have a huge effect upon Jewish people everywhere—from some of whom he will receive cruel opposition himself—but he will also be the pioneer apostle to the Gentiles. This truly is a most significant time when the risen and ascended Jesus uniquely appears to Saul.
How is Saul changed after meeting the risen Lord Jesus?
How is Saul changed after meeting the risen Lord Jesus? After answering this question, we will see what happened to Saul on the road to Damascus. Saul, who will become Paul, is persecuted, and often beaten, thrown into prison, and even stoned by the Jews. Read about the amount and types of Paul’s staggering sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11:22–29. The Jews are furious that their anti-Christian persecutor and ‘hard man’ suddenly becomes a faithful follower of Jesus. Saul was sent by the chief priests to pursue and imprison new Christians, make them ‘blaspheme’ (by confessing that Jesus is Lord, as well as God the Son, the Son of God, and the Messiah), and even to have them killed. The Jews had caused Jesus to be crucified.
But Saul not only becomes converted: he becomes Paul, a leading Christian apostle! Yet he never becomes anti-Jewish. After he trusts in Christ, God leads him to concentrate on taking the gospel of forgiveness, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, to the Gentiles. Still he keeps his normal practice, immediately on arrival anywhere, to visit the nearest synagogue to meet fellow Jews. He still longs to see his own people come to Jesus for forgiveness. When Jesus bore sinners’ sins and took God’s punishment for them in His body on the cross, it was for Jews and for Gentiles. (It was also for you and me.) The Christian message is that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ and that God ‘commands all people everywhere to repent’ (Romans 6:23; Acts 17:30). That excludes no one who will repent and trust Jesus.
He could not have been more Jewish
Philippians 3:4–6 shows just how Jewish Saul was: circumcised according to the Old Testament law; a naturally born Israelite; of the same tribe as Israel’s first king, his name-sake, Saul; a fully Hebrew son of Hebrew parents maintaining his Hebrew language in a pagan city; a Pharisee trained by Gamaliel, the leading Pharisee; and meticulously legalistic in keeping the small print of Jewish law and teaching it to others. Saul’s zeal made him obsessed to weed out Jews converted to Jesus Christ. No one expected Jesus to stop him in his tracks as he journeyed to Damascus to terrorise Christians! Sometimes Christians ask themselves if it is even possible that one person or another can ever be converted to Christ. It seems so unlikely because some are seemingly so very far away from the remotest chance that they will ever consider the gospel openly, repent of their sins, and turn to Jesus Christ. Will they be honest enough about their sins to know they need God’s forgiveness and His power to change them? Will they actually turn from those sins and recognise that the Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son, has been judged on the cross for their sins and will come into their lives to save them, if only they turn to Him by faith alone? My guess is that although Saul was on the prayer lists of many keen and devoted Christians, not many of them really expected him to become converted. Now there is a lesson for those of us who know the Lord today in our increasingly anti-Christian world.
A complete change of life and mind-set
Yet he was and is converted to the Lord Jesus Christ! His whole life and mind-set are changed as Philippians 3:7–11 shows. Now all else seems relatively minor to him compared with ‘the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ.’ He now sees that his boasted ‘righteousness,’ piled up by self-effort and keeping legalistic rules, is worse than nothing. It is ‘rubbish’—in fact that is polite translation of a word that means ‘dung.’ But that is how Paul now sees self-effort and self-righteousness as a means of saving him! Yet since he turned from sin to trust Jesus, God’s perfect righteousness is counted as his! He has exchanged his sins for God’s gracious forgiveness and His free gift of Christ’s righteousness. This is so real to him that he wants to go on knowing Christ better and experiencing His resurrection power through the living Christ dwelling in his heart by the Holy Spirit. He is also willing to suffer for his Saviour. He now wants to live a different ‘resurrection life’ on earth: that can only be attained daily as he dies to self and sin and is constantly filled by the Holy Spirit each day. For that he must keep looking to Jesus. What an amazing change! The open secret is that, in principle, we can experience the same change as Saul though his details and ours are probably very different. But by God’s grace we follow in Saul’s footsteps because we ‘fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith’ (Hebrews 12:2), in constantly turning from our temptations and our sin in order to make Jesus Christ our Lord.
What happens to Saul on the Damascus Road?
The Lord meets Saul just as he is fully occupied with persecuting Christianity and Christians. Here is a summary of his experience taken from the larger record in Acts 26:1–19 which have already been read to you.see especially verses 13-19
Paul answers a Roman Governor and a King who is a Jewish expert
Paul is now present in an unofficial hearing in Caesarea, which is under Rome’s jurisdiction. Festus is the region’s Roman Governor. The visiting king, Agrippa, expert on Jewish laws and customs, comes to advise Festus about Paul’s case, which the Jews strongly oppose. Paul, though Jewish, is a Roman citizen and has appealed to Caesar in Rome, as is his right under Roman law. Festus must report to Caesar so the Emperor knows the position fully. Caesar is the most powerful world ruler, who does not ‘suffer fools gladly.’ Paul of Tarsus is unusual being both Jewish and Roman. He rightly claims he is being judged wrongly for believing in the resurrection from the dead, including Jesus’ resurrection. That is not a crime under Roman law. He is asked to speak. He will testify to Agrippa, Festus and a courtroom full of influential people, probably most neutral but some bitterly opposed to Paul. He is going to say how he met the risen Jesus. Paul always seeks to present the gospel wherever he is and whoever he is with—a real challenge to Christians today. He must also justify legally his appeal to Caesar. Resurrection has long been believed in by orthodox Jews, but of course they have already rejected Jesus. Paul also claims the Jews’ have no evidence to support their false allegations about him. Now we join Saul as he describes his high-powered audience what happens to him on the Damascus Road.
Saul’s bad conscience pricked by God?
Saul’s bad conscience pricked by God? Saul has obeyed orders from the chief priests to arrest Jewish Christians fleeing from Israel. He violently opposes anything about ‘the name of Jesus of Nazareth’, as he showed in Jerusalem. Suddenly ‘about noon’ he sees ‘a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around’ him and his fellow travellers. They all fall to the ground. A voice in Aramaic (a local language like Hebrew) says, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?’ and likens him to an ox kicking against the goad (a pointed stick which is jabbed into an ox to make it keep on pulling the plough behind it). Does Jesus refer to a goad to remind Saul of his bad conscience pricking him because of his ungodly cruelty to Christians? Instantly, Saul knows this voice is from the Lord from Heaven, and replies, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord replies, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’ The crucified, risen and ascended King of kings and Lord of lords now seeks Saul! Jesus tells Saul to rise and stand up. (How often does God humble us in conviction of sin so He can lift us up by blessing us?) The Lord Jesus then tells Saul how He wants him to live and the role He has for him. He is to become Christ’s servant and witness. He will witness of what he has ‘seen’ (which means ‘experienced’) of Jesus already. (He is doing that now before Agrippa and Festus.) In future, he must also keep sharing what God shows him.
For today’s Christians, that means testifying how we came to trust Jesus as Saviour, showing we know Jesus by how we now live, and then sharing with others what we learn each day about God from the Bible. Every born again person should be doing that constantly and be seeking to share the gospel with others.
Special promise from God to Paul
The Lord promises to rescue Saul from constant danger from some Jews (already seeking his life) and Gentiles (who will become Paul’s God-given ‘target’ for sharing the good news about Jesus.) Today, Christians in many countries face danger and death where violent extremism exists, or if the accepted religion cruelly opposes their knowing and following Jesus, and especially so if they share the good news of the cross and resurrection with non-Christians. The presence of danger never means we cannot witness there. Saul knows he will be sent to places where he urgently and often will need the Lord’s protection.
But why witness to others worldwide
Why is Saul sent to these people? Why are Christians commanded by Jesus to still go into the whole world to serve Him? The answer is, ‘To open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.’ If Paul then, or Christians today, will go and make clear the saving message of the cross and the resurrection, and of repentance and faith, the Holy Spirit will do His work in their hearts, through His servants, to open their spiritual eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, and to deliver them from Satan to God. Jesus says His whole purpose is, ‘So they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Me’. When sinners have their eyes of understanding opened, turn from sin to receive Jesus, and so also receive God’s delivering power, they become God’s special children (John 1:12). They become part of His earthly church at once. After death they will be forever in Heaven with Christ and with each person who has ever been saved by faith in Lord Jesus. He gives them ‘a place among those who are sanctified [set apart] by faith in Me’.
Are you among them? I do hope so. It is urgent and vital. There is nothing more important than to know sins forgiven, peace with God, and a home in Heaven with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Here is a note for you. There is no specific statement in the Bible that Saul’s name was changed to Paul as a result of his Damascus Road experience of meeting the Lord Jesus Christ. In this he is unlike, for example, Abram becoming Abraham, or Jacob becoming Israel. But like Jacob he continued from time to time to be called by his ‘first’ name. The fact remains that after the Spirit-filled apostle had dealt with Elymas, the sorcerer, and then went with his missionary team to Perga and then Antioch in Syria, he was only called ‘Paul’, except when recounting his experience on the Damascus Road. The change was not immediate, but it certainly caught on!
|see especially verses 13-19