Introduction: Paul’s ministry operated on the premise that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah. His conversion and ministry in no sense contradicted the Old Testament Scriptures but was the final confirmation of the absolute truthfulness of all of it. His testimony and defense emphasized how deeply he believed the Old Testament Scriptures and how inviolable he believed they were. His confrontation with Jesus on the road to Damascus did not alter that conviction in the slightest. Rather, it served to confirm that purely and unerringly revelatory character of those Scriptures, for the one about whom they taught, the one who would be prophet, priest, and king had truly come just as they said. This formed the Pauline evangelistic method from the inception of his ministry—reasoning in the synagogue from the Scriptures in order to demonstrate that Jesus of Nazareth is truly the Christ. Some who heard Paul, believed him and some did not; some were so offended that they made it a goal of their lives to kill him. For two reasons, they did not understand: one, their grasp of the meaning of the Old Testament and its picture of the Messiah made them reject the presentation of a peasant from Galilee who was crucified by Rome and rejected by the most learned religious leaders. He could not be Messiah. Two, not only were they deluded cognitively, their hearts were proud and self-righteous, as was that of Paul’s, and they could not accept a Messiah who made them reject the saving value of either their pedigree or their supposedly faithful law-keeping. Paul’s testimony is simply another way to demonstrate that Jesus is the Christ who has brought to completion and absolute confirmation the entire Old Testament revelation.
I. Paul emphasized his identity as a Jew. Throughout this defense, Paul wants to identify himself as one who believes the Bible.
A. His address to them. He identified with them in a respectful manner, embracing fully his own Jewish identity and sympathies by calling them “Brethren and Fathers.” In addition, though he spoke in Greek to the commander, Paul addressed the Jews in Hebrew, which, when they heard immediately arrested their attention.
B. His Identity. His personal history placed him in the most pure strain of Jewish tradition and education. Having been born in Tarsus of Jewish parents, identified as a child of the tribe of Benjamin (Philippians 3:5). He was educated in Jerusalem under the famous Rabbi Gamaliel. This education gave him a thorough knowledge of the law and instilled in him a love and respect for its inviolability. That conviction had not left him. He was in no sense behind them in their zeal for God. In Galatians 1, Paul testified, “I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” If the propagation of the gospel was being made by one who had little knowledge of the law, little respect for its revelatory status and the necessity of its fulfillment (cf. Matthew 5:17, 18), and set forth the message of Christ as in any sense a correction, rather than an extension and completion, of the law, the message could not have been argued and commended in any synagogue over the entire Roman Empire. Paul is not presenting himself as their opponent in their concerns about the truthfulness of the Jewish Scriptures, but as their friend and advocate.
II. Paul Emphasized his own strong resistance to the message that Jesus was Messiah. (Verse 4, 5)
A. He persecuted The Way. He bound both men and women and delivered them to prison (Acts 9:2). His training had made him see this Christ phenomenon as a falsehood; He could not reconcile their claims about Jesus of Nazareth with the messianic promises. He considered them as corrupters of the pure Jewish interpretation of Scripture and as having introduced novelty into the worship of Yahweh.
B. The high priests and elders cooperated with him in this strategy of persecution. His actions were thoroughly consistent with the views of the most esteemed leaders of the Jews, both the high priests and the council of elders. Evidently some of them still were functioning, for he indicated that they could testify to his actions and to their granting him authority to engage in his practice of entering into houses and seizing these people of the Way to bind them and imprison them.
III. Paul gave a historical account of his personal Sight of Jesus and his commissioning as an apostle. (Verses 7b-10)
A. He spoke of the vision and its effects.
- He was nearing Damascus on this mission, when around noon time, the time of the most unhindered shining of the sun, something happened that superseded even the light of the sun. Paul said that it “suddenly flashed from heaven around me.”
- The appearance of this light was so intense that he fell to the ground (Acts 9:3, 4).
B. He related his conversation with Jesus the Nazarene.
- Jesus spoke to him first, calling him by name, “Saul, Saul.” Jesus asked him for what purpose did he persecute him. “Why are you persecuting me?” Jesus identifies his body on earth as an extension of his own person. He is never oblivious to the trial, the difficulties, the testing, or the prayers of his people for they are his trials, his sufferings, and are, indeed, his prayers for the well-being and glory of his own presence here.
- Paul responded by asking him who he was. He addresses this voice as “Lord,” because of the obvious dignity, majesty, and strength intrinsic to his appearance in blinding light. He would know soon, that this voice came from the one who is indeed the Lord in the absolute sense, the Creator of all things, the Redeemer of sinners, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He was not, in my estimation, being disingenuous but truly was overwhelmed with surprise and confusion as to who could be claiming such an identity with the targets of his persecution.
- The answer served as the first element of a quick and thorough theological education that Paul would receive. This would revolutionize his understanding of the entire Scripture. It would provide the key for the true understanding of God, the Law, the covenants, the symbols and types of redemption, and the prophecies of a suffering Messiah, and how he would be, on that basis, a light to the Gentiles. “I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.”
- The blindness was appointed for Saul alone, perhaps as a first element of the suffering that he would experience for the name of Jesus. The others saw the light but not the person, heard something, but not with understanding (Compare Acts 9:7 with verse 9). Saul, however, understood perfectly and responded with a question of submission, “What shall I do, Lord?” Now the word of address has taken on the meaning of sovereign, majestic, redeemer and ruler.
- “The Lord said to me;” Saul was instructed to continue to Damascus, but now in an entirely different role. He awaited the will of the one whom formerly he had persecuted. Now he awaited the instructions from the lowly Nazarene as the exalted Lord who would give instructions in “all that has been appointed for you to do.”
IV. He related his conversation with Ananias – 12-16
A. The status of Ananias.
- In his personal habit of worship, he was devout in accord with the standard of the Law. This description continues Paul’s purpose in the narrative of convincing the Jews that his proclamation is not a departure from that for which the revelation of Moses and the prophets prepared the Jewish people.
- Though he was a believer in Jesus as Messiah, the Jews who lived in Damascus spoke well of him.
B. Paul’s healing
- Ananias addressed him as brother. Ananias had doubts about this mission at the first. God told him about Saul’s conversion and that he was a “chosen vessel.” Ananias at once considered Saul, the persecutor as a brother in Christ. He addressed him as such in fulfilling the commission given him by God (Acts 9:15-17).
- Ananias said, “Receive your sight.” This is recorded in Acts 9:18.
- Jesus healed blind men. In Matthew 9:27-31, two blind men received sight from his touch and a word. In his answer to John the Baptist in Matthew 11:5, one of the evidences was, “The blind see.” In Matthew 12:22, Jesus healed a man who was both blind and mute, so that the crowds asked, “Could this be the Son of David?” In Matthew 15 great multitudes came to him including the “lame, blind, mute, maimed, and many others; and they laid them at Jesus’ feet and he healed them.” Just before his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus healed two blind men who called out, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David” (Matthew 20:29-33). The entire chapter of John 9 is given to a discussion and reaction of Jesus’ healing a man who was born blind.
- Jesus used the term in a spiritual sense when he commented concerning the Pharisees, “They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch” (Matthew 15:14). Paul, in 2 Corinthians 4:4 uses the spiritual import of this condition when he talks about those whose minds are blinded by the god of this age so they do not believe. John wrote of the one who is filled with hate and walks in darkness, does not know where he is going, “because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:9).
- In this case, the brightness of Jesus himself in a manifestation of his resurrection glory blinded Paul physically. This showed him that he had been blind spiritually to deny that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, the Son of God. The brightness of his glory blinded him physically but opened his eyes spiritually. Now Jesus restored the physical sight of Paul so that he would function in the world in a completely different way.
- Paul looked up at him. The first object of Paul’s vision was a man that he had come to arrest to carry him to Jerusalem for condemnation by the law of the Jews. Now he sees him as a messenger of mercy, a brother in Christ. Conversion to Christ radically alters our vision of the world and ushers us into a family of love, consolation, instruction, edification, comfort, and joy.
C. Ananias gave Paul instructions
- Paul would know God’s will.
- Paul would be one of the main voices in understanding the will of God in his decrees as absolute and certain: He wrote in Ephesians 1:11, “In him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.” In his discussion of election in Romans 9 based on Jacob and Esau and Pharaoh, Paul concluded, “Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens” (Romans 9:18).
- Paul had leadership given by God that was beyond that received in a normal course of the Christian life, even beyond that of his contemporaries in the apostolic age. He was directed specifically not to go to Asia and Bithynia, but to Macedonia on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:6-10). He was instructed to stay in Corinth and continue preaching for God had many people in that city (Acts 18:9, 10). Paul narrated an example of divine leadership in this testimony in verses 17-21, discussed below. Also, he was “bound in the Spirit” to go to Jerusalem and at the same time was told, “chains and tribulations awaited him” (Acts 20:22, 23). He did not know exactly the means by which he would get there, but he knew that God’s will was for him to go to Rome: “Making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you.” He knew this both by specific leadership and in general by his call as an apostle: “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established . . . that I might shave some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles” (Romans 1: 10, 11, 13). On some issues he had desires but was uncertain if God willed the fulfillment of that desire: “But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills, and I will know, not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power” (1 Corinthians 4:19).
- Although such precise instructive leadership is not promised to followers of Christ, we may know the will of God in our lives in many general ways and also trust him for providential guidance for personal leadership in matters of gifts, callings, opportunities for service, etc.
- There is a class of Scriptures that give specific instructions that relate to all Christians in all times. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
- There is a class of Scriptures that show us that discerning God’s will comes from a consistent desire to honor him in those areas of holiness and devotion that should be present always: “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1, 2).
- Paul would see the righteous one. Paul’s view of Christ as the Righteous One would serve as the foundation for his doctrine of justification by faith. In Christ alone does the righteousness exist by which one may find the law perfectly fulfilled. The key passage in this transcendent view of Christ in the manifestation of the righteousness of God in the gospel is Romans 3:21-26. Also, a most august summary of this is found in the middle of Paul’s comparison of Christ to Adam: (Romans 5:18, 19).
- Paul would hear an utterance from his mouth. In this, Ananias showed that Paul had been separated to receive revelation for establishing the new covenant in Christ both in his preaching and in its written form. This would give completeness to the inscripturation of revelation. To this aspect of his call Paul referred in 1 Corinthians 2:10-13 and Ephesians 3:3-5.
V. He related a second conversation with Jesus. This event happened during the stay in Jerusalem described in Acts 9:267-30.
A. It happened while he was praying in the temple. This he included, though it is not specifically stated in Acts 9, to show that still he considered himself as a worshipper of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and frequented the place of prayer in the temple.
B. Jesus told him to leave Jerusalem (verse 18.) In that place of prayer, and during his time of prayer, this same Jesus the Nazarene appeared to him with another message.
- He was told to make haste and leave Jerusalem. He had been speaking “boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 9:29).
- The Lord told him they would not accept his testimony. Acts 9 included this bit of information about the Hellenistic Jews, “They attempted to kill him.” Paul evidently was not aware of this plot, and it was revealed to him by the Lord Jesus. It was not Paul’s time to die and he must leave to frustrate the murderous design of the Jews.
C. Paul wondered at the words of Jesus for Paul thought they would receive his testimony.
- As Paul recited to Jesus his former life of persecution, including his approval of the stoning of Stephen, he indicated that he thought, at that early time in his ministry, that such a testimony would be so compelling, that they would not oppose him, but believe him.
- He included that event and that discussion for a two-fold purpose: one, to show that he believed from the beginning that his experience was perfectly consistent with the total witness of Scriptures and that from the first he believed it should carry credible and compelling evidence; two, in light of this conviction, he gives them an opportunity to believe on the basis of this same evidence—that is, Jesus of Nazareth has risen from the dead, now reigns as Lord and is the fulfillment of the old covenant types, prophecies, and promises, and as he has converted and forgiven Paul so he can fulfill their anticipation of Messiah and forgive their iniquities and remove their trespasses from them as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:1-12).
D. Jesus commanded him to go, for he must be a witness to the Gentiles. The Lord did not reason with Paul about this, but commanded him to go. He indeed is Lord and has his reasons that far transcend ours. Paul was right, that the Jews should have believed his testimony; but given the state of their hearts, the opening of the eyes, even as in his case, would only come about by a sovereign work of God. Paul’s commission was to go to the Gentiles and the time had come for him to prepare to do so as an extension of the ministry of the church (Look at Acts 9:30; 11:25, 26, 29, 30; 12:25-13:3).
VI. The Jews are enraged at this statement. This very thing, the extension of the messianic promises to the Gentiles enraged the Jews and then renewed their efforts to have Paul killed. This fulfilled the prophecy of Agabus in Acts 21:10-11. The Jews’ actions led to Paul’s being bound and delivered to the protection of the Gentiles, which, in turn, led to his eventual journey to Rome.