Some things are worth telling more than once. The story of Saul’s conversion, the persecutor who would become the apostle Paul, is recorded three times by Luke. The narrative is first recorded in chapter 9. In chapter 22, Paul tells of his conversion to the angry crowd in Jerusalem, just before he is taken into custody by the Roman guards. Paul retells his conversation in chapter 26 to King Agrippa. As we go along, we will note the emphases in each context, as well as key details revealed in the later chapters.
Saul was a rabbinical student from Tarsus who studied under Gamaliel, the renowned Jewish scholar. We first met Saul at the stoning of Stephen, watching the garments of those who threw the deadly stones. Saul’s zealous rampage was mentioned in chapter 8, and now he has obtained commission to pursue Jesus’ disciples in Damascus. This city was a strategic travel center. If those of the Way could be stopped there, it would seriously slow their effort to evangelize. “The Way” is a reference to Christianity, occurring several times in Acts (16:17; 18:25-26; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). What a fitting reference to the religious movement attached to the one who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).
On his journey of around 150 miles, Saul had a close encounter with the living Lord. Jesus got Saul’s attention with the blinding light and with his challenging words. The voice asked, “Why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). To persecute the body of Christ is to persecute its head, Jesus Christ. Jesus takes it personally when someone hurts his church. Jesus commanded Saul to proceed to Damascus to learn “what you must do” (Acts 9:6). Those who accompanied Saul heard the sound of Jesus’ voice but did not understand the words (Acts 22:9). This conversation was for Saul only.
Saul was led on to Damascus, blind and eager to learn more. He fasted for three days as he awaited the Lord’s instructions. A disciple named Ananias was charged in a vison to go to Saul and restore his sight. Ananias was understandably reluctant at first. Saul was on a murderous mission. Jesus allayed his fear, explaining that Saul was his chosen instrument. Jesus knew the potential for such an honest but misguided, zealous young man like Saul. But first Saul must obey the gospel to be saved, like everyone else. Saul had a choice whether to be baptized (Acts 22:16), and a choice whether to obey Jesus’ command to do the work of an apostle (Acts 26:19). We all have the choice whether to follow the Lord, or whether to pursue our own plan and pleasure. Aren’t we thrilled that Saul chose wisely?!
Immediately after his baptism, Saul began to promote the cause he had so vigorously persecuted. Saul amazed his listeners and grew more powerful in his presentation of the truth. No surprise that the unbelieving Jews then sought to kill him. He was aided in escape as helpers lowered him in a basket through an opening in the city wall (2 Cor. 11:33). The wide city walls of the day often contained living quarters with windows to the outside. Just think—someone made the basket, and someone made the rope. Other hands lowered this great man to the ground. Every job in the kingdom is important.
A few years in Saul’s life are passed over in the record of Acts. Saul spent some time with the Lord in the desert of Arabia between his escape from Damascus and his return to Jerusalem (Gal. 1:17-18).
Arriving at Jerusalem, Saul wished to join or associate with the disciples. The believers were afraid of him at first. Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, vouched for Saul before the apostles. Saul preached boldly and debated as necessary. Eventually there was a plot against his life, and he was sent to his hometown of Tarsus. We will not hear from Saul again until Barnabas calls him to help in Antioch. A summary statement shows the continued progress of the church.
The ministry of Peter is now taken up in Luke’s account. When he healed Aeneas in Lydda, “All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord” (Acts 9:35). Measured use of miraculous powers continued to bear witness to the true and divine nature of the gospel.
Joppa is a city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, some 38 miles from Jerusalem. This city is identified as Jaffa on the modern map of Israel. It is near Tel Aviv. A beloved disciple died in Joppa, so the disciples sent for Peter to come at once from Lydda. Only three days were allowed before burial, but this wonderful lady would not need a grave. Peter arrived and cleared the room where Tabitha, or Dorcas’ body lay. He prayed and then told her, “Tabitha, get up” (Acts 9:40). Skeptics doubt that Dorcas really died, but Luke the beloved physician knew and wrote the truth. Raising the dead does not seem to have been frequent on the apostles’ tours, but when it occurred, many believed. Someday all who sleep in the dust will be awakened by Jesus. All will be raised to face judgment (John 5:28-29). Life is short and death is certain (Heb. 9:27). Are we preparing to meet our Lord?
My comments are not an inspired commentary, but rather a few words to draw attention to the background, context, and dynamic situation of the book of Acts. May God bless your reading of His Word. T.C.