From Persecutor to
PROMINENT among the Jewish leaders who became thoroughly aroused by the
success attending the proclamation of the gospel, was Saul of Tarsus. A
Roman citizen by birth, Saul was nevertheless a Jew by descent and had
been educated in Jerusalem by the most eminent of the rabbis. "Of the
stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin," Saul was "a Hebrew
of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal,
persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law,
blameless." Philippians 3:5, 6. He was regarded by the rabbis as a
young man of great promise, and high hopes were cherished concerning him
as an able and zealous defender of the ancient faith. His elevation to
membership in the Sanhedrin council placed him in a position of power.
Saul had taken a prominent part in the trial and conviction of Stephen,
and the striking evidences of God's presence with the martyr had led Saul
to doubt the righteousness
of the cause he had espoused against the followers of Jesus. His mind
was deeply stirred. In his perplexity he appealed to those in whose wisdom
and judgment he had full confidence. The arguments of the priests and
rulers finally convinced him that Stephen was a blasphemer, that the
Christ whom the martyred disciple had preached was an impostor, and that
those ministering in holy office must be right.
Not without severe trial did Saul come to this conclusion. But in the
end his education and prejudices, his respect for his former teachers, and
his pride of popularity braced him to rebel against the voice of
conscience and the grace of God. And having fully decided that the priests
and scribes were right, Saul became very bitter in his opposition to the
doctrines taught by the disciples of Jesus. His activity in causing holy
men and women to be dragged before tribunals, where some were condemned to
imprisonment and some even to death, solely because of their faith in
Jesus, brought sadness and gloom to the newly organized church, and caused
many to seek safety in flight.
Those who were driven from Jerusalem by this persecution "went
everywhere preaching the word." Acts 8:4. Among the cities to which
they went was Damascus, where the new faith gained many converts.
The priests and rulers had hoped that by vigilant effort and stern
persecution the heresy might be suppressed. Now they felt that they must
carry forward in other places the decided measures taken in Jerusalem
against the new teaching.
For the special work that they desired to have done at Damascus, Saul
offered his services. "Breathing out threatenings and slaughter
against the disciples of the Lord," he "went unto the high
priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if
he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring
them bound unto Jerusalem." Thus "with authority and commission
from the chief priests" (Acts 26:12), Saul of Tarsus, in the strength
and vigor of manhood, and fired with mistaken zeal, set out on that
memorable journey, the strange occurrences of which were to change the
whole current of his life.
On the last day of the journey, "at midday," as the weary
travelers neared Damascus, they came within full view of broad stretches
of fertile lands, beautiful gardens, and fruitful orchards, watered by
cool streams from the surrounding mountains. After the long journey over
desolate wastes such scenes were refreshing indeed. While Saul, with his
companions, gazed with admiration on the fruitful plain and the fair city
below, "suddenly," as he afterward declared, there shone
"round about me and them which journeyed with me" "a light
from heaven, above the brightness of the sun" (Acts 26:13), too
glorious for mortal eyes to bear. Blinded and bewildered, Saul fell
prostrate to the ground.
While the light continued to shine round about them, Saul heard,
"a voice speaking . . . in the Hebrew tongue" (Acts 26:14),
"saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? And he said,
Who art Thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest:
it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks."
Filled with fear, and almost blinded by the intensity of the light, the
companions of Saul heard a voice, but saw no man. But Saul understood the
words that were spoken, and to him was clearly revealed the One who spoke
--even the Son of God. In the glorious Being who stood before him he saw
the Crucified One. Upon the soul of the stricken Jew the image of the
Saviour's countenance was imprinted forever. The words spoken struck home
to his heart with appalling force. Into the darkened chambers of his mind
there poured a flood of light, revealing the ignorance and error of his
former life and his present need of the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.
Saul now saw that in persecuting the followers of Jesus he had in
reality been doing the work of Satan. He saw that his convictions of right
and of his own duty had been based largely on his implicit confidence in
the priests and rulers. He had believed them when they told him that the
story of the resurrection was an artful fabrication of the disciples. Now
that Jesus Himself stood revealed, Saul was convinced of the truthfulness
of the claims made by the disciples.
In that hour of heavenly illumination Saul's mind acted with remarkable
rapidity. The prophetic records of Holy Writ were opened to his
understanding. He saw that the rejection of Jesus by the Jews, His
crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, had been foretold by the
prophets and proved Him to be the promised Messiah. Stephen's sermon at
the time of his martyrdom was brought forcibly to Saul's mind, and he
realized that the martyr had indeed beheld "the glory of God"
when he said, "Behold, I see the heavens
opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God."
Acts 7:55, 56. The priests had pronounced these words blasphemy, but Saul
now knew them to be truth.
What a revelation was all this to the persecutor! Now Saul knew for a
certainty that the promised Messiah had come to this earth as Jesus of
Nazareth and that He had been rejected and crucified by those whom He came
to save. He knew also that the Saviour had risen in triumph from the tomb
and had ascended into the heavens. In that moment of divine revelation
Saul remembered with terror that Stephen, who had borne witness of a
crucified and risen Saviour, had been sacrificed by his consent, and that
later, through his instrumentality, many other worthy followers of Jesus
had met their death by cruel persecution.
The Saviour had spoken to Saul through Stephen, whose clear reasoning
could not be controverted. The learned Jew had seen the face of the martyr
reflecting the light of Christ's glory--appearing as if "it had been
the face of an angel." Acts 6:15. He had witnessed Stephen's
forbearance toward his enemies and his forgiveness of them. He had also
witnessed the fortitude and cheerful resignation of many whom he had
caused to be tormented and afflicted. He had seen some yield up even their
lives with rejoicing for the sake of their faith.
All these things had appealed loudly to Saul and at times had thrust
upon his mind an almost overwhelming conviction that Jesus was the
promised Messiah. At such times he had struggled for entire nights against
this conviction, and always he had ended the matter by avowing his belief
that Jesus was not the Messiah and that His followers were deluded
Now Christ had spoken to Saul with His own voice, saying, "Saul,
Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" And the question, "Who art Thou,
Lord?" was answered by the same voice, "I am Jesus whom thou
persecutest." Christ here identifies Himself with His people. In
persecuting the followers of Jesus, Saul had struck directly against the
Lord of heaven. In falsely accusing and testifying against them, he had
falsely accused and testified against the Saviour of the world.
No doubt entered the mind of Saul that the One who spoke to him was
Jesus of Nazareth, the long-looked-for Messiah, the Consolation and
Redeemer of Israel. "Trembling and astonished," he inquired,
"Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him,
Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must
When the glory was withdrawn, and Saul arose from the ground, he found
himself totally deprived of sight. The brightness of Christ's glory had
been too intense for his mortal eyes; and when it was removed, the
blackness of night settled upon his vision. He believed that this
blindness was a punishment from God for his cruel persecution of the
followers of Jesus. In terrible darkness he groped about, and his
companions, in fear and amazement, "led him by the hand, and brought
him into Damascus."
On the morning of that eventful day, Saul had neared Damascus with
feelings of self-satisfaction because of the confidence that had been
placed in him by the chief priest. To
him had been entrusted grave responsibilities. He was commissioned to
further the interests of the Jewish religion by checking, if possible, the
spread of the new faith in Damascus. He had determined that his mission
should be crowned with success and had looked forward with eager
anticipation to the experiences that he expected were before him.
But how unlike his anticipations was his entrance into the city?
Stricken with blindness, helpless, tortured by remorse, knowing not what
further judgment might be in store for him, he sought out the home of the
disciple Judas, where, in solitude, he had ample opportunity for
reflection and prayer.
For three days Saul was "without sight, and neither did eat nor
drink." These days of soul agony were to him as years. Again and
again he recalled, with anguish of spirit, the part he had taken in the
martyrdom of Stephen. With horror he thought of his guilt in allowing
himself to be controlled by the malice and prejudice of the priests and
rulers, even when the face of Stephen had been lighted up with the
radiance of heaven. In sadness and brokenness of spirit he recounted the
many times he had closed his eyes and ears against the most striking
evidences and had relentlessly urged on the persecution of the believers
in Jesus of Nazareth.
These days of close self-examination and of heart humiliation were
spent in lonely seclusion. The believers, having been given warning of the
purpose of Saul in coming to Damascus, feared that he might be acting a
part, in order the more readily to deceive them; and they held themselves
aloof, refusing him their sympathy. He had no desire to appeal to the
unconverted Jews, with whom he had planned to unite in persecuting the
believers; for he knew that they would not even listen to his story. Thus
he seemed to be shut away from all human sympathy. His only hope of help
was in a merciful God, and to Him he appealed in brokenness of heart.
During the long hours when Saul was shut in with God alone, he recalled
many of the passages of Scripture referring to the first advent of Christ.
Carefully he traced down the prophecies, with a memory sharpened by the
conviction that had taken possession of his mind. As he reflected on the
meaning of these prophecies he was astonished at his former blindness of
understanding and at the blindness of the Jews in general, which had led
to the rejection of Jesus as the promised Messiah. To his enlightened
vision all now seemed plain. He knew that his former prejudice and
unbelief had clouded his spiritual perception and had prevented him from
discerning in Jesus of Nazareth the Messiah of prophecy.
As Saul yielded himself fully to the convicting power of the Holy
Spirit, he saw the mistakes of his life and recognized the far-reaching
claims of the law of God. He who had been a proud Pharisee, confident that
he was justified by his good works, now bowed before God with the humility
and simplicity of a little child, confessing his own unworthiness and
pleading the merits of a crucified and risen Saviour. Saul longed to come
into full harmony and communion with the Father and the Son; and in the
intensity of his
desire for pardon and acceptance he offered up fervent supplications to
the throne of grace.
The prayers of the penitent Pharisee were not in vain. The inmost
thoughts and emotions of his heart were transformed by divine grace; and
his nobler faculties were brought into harmony with the eternal purposes
of God. Christ and His righteousness became to Saul more than the whole
The conversion of Saul is a striking evidence of the miraculous power
of the Holy Spirit to convict men of sin. He had verily believed that
Jesus of Nazareth had disregarded the law of God and had taught His
disciples that it was of no effect. But after his conversion, Saul
recognized Jesus as the one who had come into the world for the express
purpose of vindicating His Father's law. He was convinced that Jesus was
the originator of the entire Jewish system of sacrifices. He saw that at
the crucifixion type had met antitype, that Jesus had fulfilled the Old
Testament prophecies concerning the Redeemer of Israel.
In the record of the conversion of Saul important principles are given
us, which we should ever bear in mind. Saul was brought directly into the
presence of Christ. He was one whom Christ intended for a most important
work, one who was to be a "chosen vessel" unto Him; yet the Lord
did not at once tell him of the work that had been assigned him. He
arrested him in his course and convicted him of sin; but when Saul asked,
"What wilt Thou have me to do?" the Saviour placed the inquiring
Jew in connection with His church, there to obtain a knowledge of God's
will concerning him.
The marvelous light that illumined the darkness of Saul was the work of
the Lord; but there was also a work that was to be done for him by the
disciples. Christ had performed the work of revelation and conviction; and
now the penitent was in a condition to learn from those whom God had
ordained to teach His truth.
While Saul in solitude at the house of Judas continued in prayer and
supplication, the Lord appeared in vision to "a certain disciple at
Damascus, named Ananias," telling him that Saul of Tarsus was praying
and in need of help. "Arise, and go into the street which is called
Straight," the heavenly messenger said, "and inquire in the
house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth,
and hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his
hand on him, that he might receive his sight."
Ananias could scarcely credit the words of the angel; for the reports
of Saul's bitter persecution of the saints at Jerusalem had spread far and
wide. He presumed to expostulate: "Lord, I have heard by many of this
man, how much evil he hath done to Thy saints at Jerusalem: and here he
hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on Thy
name." But the command was imperative: "Go thy way: for he is a
chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and
the children of Israel."
Obedient to the direction of the angel, Ananias sought out the man who
had but recently breathed out threatenings against all who believed on the
name of Jesus; and putting his hands on the head of the penitent sufferer,
he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee
in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy
sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
"And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales:
and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized."
Thus Jesus gave sanction to the authority of His organized church and
placed Saul in connection with His appointed agencies on earth. Christ had
now a church as His representative on earth, and to it belonged the work
of directing the repentant sinner in the way of life.
Many have an idea that they are responsible to Christ alone for their
light and experience, independent of His recognized followers on earth.
Jesus is the friend of sinners, and His heart is touched with their woe.
He has all power, both in heaven and on earth; but He respects the means
that He has ordained for the enlightenment and salvation of men; He
directs sinners to the church, which He has made a channel of light to the
When, in the midst of his blind error and prejudice, Saul was given a
revelation of the Christ whom he was persecuting, he was placed in direct
communication with the church, which is the light of the world. In this
case Ananias represents Christ, and also represents Christ's ministers
upon the earth, who are appointed to act in His stead. In Christ's stead
Ananias touches the eyes of Saul, that they may receive sight. In Christ's
stead he places his hands upon him, and, as he prays in Christ's name,
Saul receives the Holy Ghost. All is done in the name and by the authority
of Christ. Christ is the fountain; the church is the channel of
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