#20 (Acts 9:1-9) Saul the Tormentor Meets the Glory

We've seen the door of salvation open for the Samaritans, and we've seen the Ethiopian eunuch receive his born-from-above experience. Now our attention will be brought back to a man who has been the greatest tormentor of the Jewish believers. In Hebrew his name is Sha'ul.

This study is important for more reason than one. Not only does it show how the Lord can wonderfully turn an enemy into His friend, but it also shows how God can deal with the most depraved of hearts. Paul later refers to himself as the foremost of sinners, to show how God's grace can reach into the hardest of hearts. Here is what he said:

"It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life." (1Tim1:15,16)

This is Acts Study #20 (Acts 9:1-9) Saul the Tormentor Meets the Glory.

Vss1,2: "Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem."

.... "Breathing threats and murder."

Notice it doesn't say Saul was 'breathing OUT' threats. It says he was 'breathing threats and murder.' The Greek is 'empneo apeile kai phonos.' This phrase describes an atmosphere flowing in and out of Saul. His very breathing was full of murderous intent. Saul's consuming passion was to destroy the infant Church. Can you imagine such a vile hatred in anyone?

.... "Went to the high priest."

Saul was acquainted enough with the high priest to secure letters to put believers in fetters and transport them back to Jerusalem. Keep in mind that Saul is a disciple of Gamaliel, who was himself a member of the council. Saul may have been a junior member. Makes you wonder how Gamaliel viewed all this.

.... "The synagogues at Damascus."

The council cared nothing for the Samaritans. In their arrogance they assumed power and authority over all Jews, everywhere. Damascus had a great many synagogues. Saul fully intended to search out any Jewish believers in Jesus.

Here is how Paul later described his role in persecuting Jewish believers: "I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities. (Acts 26:9 -11)

Did you note how Paul spoke of the deaths of the saints. He is not simply speaking of Stephen. As it was earlier stated, historical figures place the deaths of these Jewish believers between 2 to 3 thousand.

.... "Belonging to the Way."

The early Jewish believers identified their new covenant faith as 'the Way.' This became sort of a formal title for identifying them. Adam forfeited the way to God. Jesus, became the Way back to God. He said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." (John 14:6)

Blinded By The Light

Vss3-6: "As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?' And he said, 'Who are You, Lord?' And He said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.'"

.... "A light from heaven flashed around him."

The heavenly light was a brilliant flash. Paul later wrote that the Lord, "dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see." (1Tim6:16) The soldiers saw the light and heard a sound, but they did not hear what was actually being said to Saul.

It is not known whether Saul actually saw Jesus fully at this point. He may have only saw His form or image. (The Lord does appear to him later.)

The unapproachable was known to the Hebrews as 'hakabod', or, hakavod, or, in English, 'the glory.' This was the light that rested over the mercy seat in the tabernacle. It was out of this light that Moses heard the Lord speaking to him. Moses did not see the Lord Himself. The ancients sometimes connected the hakovod with Messiah.

God said to Moses, "There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel." (Exo25:22)

In another place God speaks to Moses, saying, "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!" (Exo33:20) The light that flashing around Paul was nothing less than the glory of God.

Saul Meets Jesus

.... "Heard a voice."

The Lord spoke to Saul in Hebrew. Suddenly this violent aggressor is stunned to the core of his being. His heart is lanced.

... "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me."

The Lord calls Saul by his Hebrew name. And here is the first reference to the fact that you cannot separate the Messiah from His people. To do harm to one of God's people is to touch His Messiah. He and His people are one.

We catch a hint of this in a prophetic text; "For He said, 'Surely, they are My people, sons who will not deal falsely.' So He became their Savior. IN ALL THEIR AFFLICTION HE WAS AFFLICTED, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His mercy He redeemed them, and He lifted them and carried them all the days of old." (Isaiah 63:8,9 Caps for emphasis.)

... "Who are You, Lord?"

Saul surely responds in Hebrew, and used one of two Hebrew words for Lord, that is, Yahweh, or, Adonai. In his confused state Saul does not say, 'Adoni,' which would mean, 'My Lord.'

The importance in all this is that Saul has never had God speak to him before. There can be no question that it is the God of Israel speaking. All Saul can now say is, "Who are You Lord?" And what does he hear next? You can be sure he hear something totally unexpected.

.... "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting." (Some ancient translations read, "I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest.")

Where the KJV has, "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks," this statement is not in the earlier manuscripts. (Not in this place.) But Paul, in one of his later testimonies does later include it as having been said. (Cf. Acts 26:14)

Can you imagine the horror of Saul's soul. His murderous rage has been thoroughly pierced. Some think this is Saul's conversion experience, but not so. Saul is before the judgment seat of God.

The word conviction, elegcho in Greek, carries the thought of a moral conquest of the mind. Conviction has to complete its work before there can be entrance into the kingdom of God's beloved son. Saul is under the deepest of conviction. Think of all the harm he has done to God's people, including those actually put to death.

Next the Lord says,

Vs6: "But get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do."

This alone tells us that Saul's conversion is not complete. He is going to spend several days in darkness, with a need to sort through his own thought life. The man's world has just been turned upside down.

Vs7-9: "The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank."

.... It is later shown that the men with Saul did not actually understand what was being said to Saul. They heard sound but could not distinguish words. This experience left them entirely speechless.

.... "Though his eyes were open, he could see nothing."

This alone would cause Saul to know that what happened to him was much more than a vision. It was very real. He had seen the glory. John later writes of Jesus, in saying, "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)

Vs9: "And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank."

Saul is unable to eat or drink. He is blind. He is a prisoner to his own thoughts. No where do we read that the Lord speaks with him any further. Nothing else needs to be said. Saul is under deep conviction. But there will be a man shortly enter into his life who will provide the answers that Saul needs.

Let's complete the study at this point. There is much to consider. Feel free to ask questions or make observations.

Previous: #19 (Acts 8:25-40) Philip Goes After One Man - The Eunuch
#021 (Acts 9:10-22) The Radical Transformation of Saul

This study on Acts was originally part of a series on the book of Acts given to members of Hebraic Foundations from July 10, 2002 through January 19, 2003. They were written by Pastor Buddy Martin, Founder and Senior Pastor of Christian Challenge International.

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