Summary: The remarkable conversion of Saul, in which he put his faith in the Savior he had been so viciously persecuting, unfolds in five phases: 1) contact (Acts 9:3), 2) conviction (Acts 9:4), 3) conversion (Acts 9:5), 4) consecration (Acts 9:6–8), and 5) commun
A certain church found itself suddenly without a pastor, and a search committee was formed. In due course it received a letter from a man applying for the vacant position. The committee chairman read:
“I am considered to be a good preacher, and I have been a leader in most of the places I have served. I have also done some writing on the side.
“I am over 50 years old, and while my health is not the best, I still manage to get enough work done to please any parish.
“As for references, I am somewhat handicapped. I have never preached anywhere for more than three years. And most of the churches I have preached in have been small, even though they were located in rather large cities. I had to leave some places because my ministry caused riots and disturbances. Even where I stayed, I did not get along too well with other religious leaders, which may influence the kind of references these places will supply. I have also been threatened and physically attacked. I have even gone to jail several times for my preaching.
“I am not particularly good at keeping records. I have to admit I don’t even remember all those whom I’ve baptized. However, if you can use me, I should be pleased to be considered. I feel sure I can bring vitality to your church.”
When the chairman finished reading the letter, the committee members were aghast. How could anyone think that a church like theirs would consider a man who was nothing but a troublemaking, absentminded, ex-jailbird? What was his name? “Well,” said the chairman, “the letter is signed Paul.” (Quoted by Richard N. Bolles in Reader’s Digest)
Church history is replete with accounts which highlight the marvelous power of the gospel to transform sinners. But no transformation is as remarkable, or has had such far-reaching implications for history, as the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. So significant an event was his conversion that Scripture records it no less than three times (cf. Acts 22:1–16; 26:4–18).
It is fitting that such a unique individual would have a unique conversion. Saul was by birth a Jew, by citizenship a Roman, by education a Greek, and purely by the grace of God a Christian (cf. Phil. 3:4–9). He was a missionary, theologian, evangelist, pastor, organizer, leader, thinker, fighter for truth, and lover of souls. Never has a more godly man lived, except our Lord Himself. The change of Saul’s name to Paul [which will be first reported in Acts 13:9] is not connected with his conversion; he continues having a right to both names, the first Jewish, the second Roman; Paul continues to call himself [and to be called] Saul until his ministry in Cyprus [13:9].( Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (2099). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.)
The first two verses (of Acts 9) provide the chronological and geographical setting. More significantly, they picture the preconversion Paul, which contrasts radically with the picture of Paul after the encounter on the Damascus road. Acts 9:1 picks up the picture in 8:3. Paul was still the church’s number one enemy, still raging against it (Polhill, J. B. (2001). Vol. 26: Acts (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (233). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.)
Saul (his preconversion name), Luke notes in verse 1, was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.
Persecuting Christians consumed him; it had become his whole life. The very air he was breathing was that of threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. The word “murder” is significant. The fact that he had succeeded in having others (besides Stephen) put to death is certain (Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (350). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.).
The term disciples refers to all believers, not merely the twelve apostles. Every Christian is a follower of and learner from the Lord Jesus Christ. Saul wanted every one he could lay his hands on.
Hearing of a group of Christians in Damascus, Saul driven by deadly ambition and twisted religious zeal, went to the high priest, and as it says in Acts 9:2, asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. The high priest, in his capacity as president of the Sanhedrin. The Roman government allowed the Sanhedrin to exercise jurisdiction over Jews living outside of Palestine. Saul’s intention was to bring those who belonged to the Way to Jerusalem as captives, to be tried by the Sanhedrin. For that purpose he asked for credentials that would give him the authority to do so. He planned to go to the synagogues because that was where Jewish followers of Jesus would be worshiping. They were Jews who believed that their Messiah had come. They would not stop worshiping with their fellow Jews until it became clear that they (and Jesus’ name) were no longer welcome. (Balge, R. D. (1988). Acts. The People’s Bible (99). Milwaukee, Wis.: Northwestern Pub. House.).