Previously, Saul had been persecuting Christians. But his efforts to crush them were frustrated, and the gospel spread further and further. In this pericope, Luke recorded Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-19). Paul gave personal accounts of his conversion in Acts 22:4-21 and 26:12-18. It was at Paul’s conversion that he personally saw the Lord Jesus (1 Cor 9:1).
Luke opens this section, saying, “Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, 2 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” (Acts 9:1-2). Saul, contrary to his tremendous education, was spiritually blind and was serving as an instrument of Satan to attack the church. The believers here are called disciples of the Lord (Acts 9:1) and belonging to the Way (Acts 9:2; cf., Acts 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). In this pericope Luke will also use the terms saints (Acts 9:13), and brother (Acts 9:17). Later they will also be called Christians (Acts 11:26).
Saul thought he was doing God’s will in chasing down Christians and arresting them and bringing them back to Jerusalem. According to Warren Wiersbe, “Like many others of his countrymen, he stumbled over the Cross (1 Cor 1:23) because he depended on his own righteousness and not on the righteousness of God (Rom 9:30–10:13; Phil 3:1–10). Many self-righteous religious people today do not see their need for a Savior and resent it if you tell them they are sinners.” Damascus was 135 miles north of Jerusalem and a seven-day journey. It’s thought that there were as many as forty Jewish synagogues in Damascus at this time. That there were Christians in Damascus shows how quickly the gospel message was spreading. The Christian gospel was proving effective.
It was during the time when Saul was persecuting Christians that the Lord interrupted his life for the better. Luke states, “As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’” (Acts 9:3-4). Later, Paul described the light as occurring at noontime (Acts 22:6), and being brighter than the sun (Acts 26:13). Paul also said that when the Lord spoke to him, it was in Hebrew (Acts 26:14). The flash of light startled Saul and he lost his balance and fell to the ground. It’s true that God sometimes knocks us down so that we’ll look up. Saul then heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4b). This statement is theologically rich, for it shows that an attack upon a Christian is an attack upon the Lord Jesus Himself. This adds significance to the understanding that when we are spiritually baptized into Christ, we become part of His spiritual body, the church, and are one with Him. How we treat other Christians is how we treat the Son of God.
Saul did not understand who he was talking with, “And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). Saul called Jesus Lord (κύριος kurios), which was more than a show of respect (i.e., sir), and meant he understood he was talking with God. What a shock it must have been for Saul to hear the words, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5a). This second reference to Saul’s persecution against Jesus reinforced His identity with Christians as part of His body. But rather than destroy Saul, Jesus treated him in grace and sent him on a mission, saying, “get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do” (Acts 9:6). Wiersbe states, “Some thirty years later, Paul wrote that Christ had ‘apprehended him’ on the Damascus road (Phil 3:12). Saul was out to arrest others when the Lord arrested him. He had to lose his religion before he could gain the righteousness of Christ.”
Luke follows on, saying, “The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one” (Acts 9:7). Saul’s traveling companions were dumbfounded and speechless. They’d heard the voice, but saw no one. Later, when recounting his conversion, Paul said, “those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me” (Acts 22:9). I take it to mean Saul’s companions heard the words of Jesus but did not grasp the significance of what was being said. Next, we’re told, “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” (Acts 9:8). The aggressive and hostile Saul appears here as a docile lamb who had to be led by the hand like a little child. His physical eyes had been closed, though his spiritual eyes were opened. And once in the city, we’re informed, “And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank” (Acts 9:9). No doubt Saul’s Pharisaic theology was rocked to the core. All he thought he knew about God was shaken to the foundation. His theological presuppositions were smashed and now he had to rework his entire theological framework from the ground up. The three days Saul spent in Damascus waiting on the Lord were probably filled with many theological reasonings.
Luke shifts his account and introduces us to a man named Ananias whom the Lord would use as a conduit of His truth and grace. Luke states, “Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ And he said, ‘Here I am, Lord’” (Acts 9:10). Here, Ananias is presented as a willing servant of the Lord who responded positively when called. Luke recounts, “And the Lord said to him, ‘Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight’” (Acts 9:11-12). In this situation, the Lord told Ananias that Saul was praying and that he’d already received a vision from the Lord that Ananias was coming to him. Ananias’ going to Saul was so certain to happen, that God told him it would come to pass, even before he called upon Ananias to go. Ananias had positive volition and the Lord selected him because He knew he would do as he’d been directed. Luke’s account reveals God working at both ends of these events and orchestrating the outcome that He desired.
But there was hesitation by Ananias, as Luke tells us, “But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name’” (Acts 9:13-14). Ananias spoke honestly with the Lord about his concern. Ananias had heard about Saul and the harm he’d done to the Lord’s saints, and that he also operated with the authority of the Sanhedrin to arrest God’s people. Luke informs us, “But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake’” (Acts 9:15-16). Here, to be chosen (ἐκλογή ekloge) denotes divine selection. Saul did not choose God. God chose Saul; and He chose him to salvation, service, and suffering. And Saul displayed positive volition and obeyed the Lord; not only in the moment for salvation, but also for a lifetime of service. Saul was one of those people who trusted Christ as Savior and at the same time submitted to Him for a lifetime of service. Concerning election, God is sovereign and people have volition. The Lord calls His people to Himself, and they respond positively in faith.
Saul’s calling was to a lifetime of suffering for Christ, as the persecutor would become the persecuted (2 Cor 11:23-29). Upon hearing this, Ananias did as the Lord directed. Luke states, “So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 9:17). Laying on of hands was a form of identification. In this way, Paul was personally identified with the Christians he’d been persecuting. The touch would have brought comfort to Saul, as a human touch does. And, Ananias called Saul his brother, which was an expression of faith by Ananias, as well as a word of relief to Saul. Here was grace in both the touch and the word. The Lord who had met Saul on the road to Damascus was the very one who had sent Ananias to him that he might regain his sight. Sometimes the Lord works directly in the lives of people, and other times works through secondary agents to accomplish His will. Jesus could have spoken directly to Saul (as He’d already done), but instead, chose to speak through Ananias, His divinely appointed representative. And by God’s power, Saul’s sight was restored. Saul was also “filled with the Holy Spirit”, which meant God Himself had welcomed Paul into His family and empowered him for his new mission. After Ananias had spoken with Saul and laid his hands on him, Luke tells us, “And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; 19 and he took food and was strengthened” (Acts 9:18-19a). God worked through Ananias to touch the life of Saul, who, in turn, has touched the lives of millions of people. The godly actions of one person can change the course of world history for the better and bring many people to faith in Jesus. After Saul regained his vision, his first act was to be obedient by way of water baptism. Saul’s water baptism preceded his caring for himself, as we are told that after he had been baptized, he then “took food and was strengthened” (Acts 9:19a). Thomas Constable wrote:
- "Saul later wrote that immediately following his conversion he did not consult with others about the Scriptures but went into Arabia—and later returned to Damascus (Gal 1:15–17). “Arabia” describes the kingdom of the Nabateans that stretched south and east from Damascus beyond Petra. Damascus was in the northwest sector of Arabia. After Saul’s conversion and baptism, he needed some time and space for quiet reflection and communion with God. He had to rethink the Scriptures, receive new understanding from the Lord, and revise his Pharisaic theology."
The Central Idea of the Text is that Saul set out to destroy the church at Damascus, but the Lord stopped him, humbled him, saved him, and called him into Christian service by means of an obedient disciple named Ananias.
- Though people may violently rage against God’s church and His children, it is the Lord who sovereignly determines whether they are permitted to have their way or not. Stephen was allowed to face a martyr’s death with honor, but the Lord overruled the intentions of Saul and put a stop to his madness. Rather than kill Saul for his violence against the church, the Lord of grace called him to salvation, Christian service, and a lifetime of suffering for the name of Christ. Though saved by grace and effective in Christian ministry, Paul never fully overcame his sense of shame for having persecuted the church of God and four times mentioned his lifestyle prior to his conversion (Acts 22:4-5; 26:9-11; 1 Cor 15:9; Gal 1:13).
- When attacked for our faith, the Christian is “never to pay back evil for evil to anyone” (Rom 12:17), and is commanded “never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written ‘vengeance is mine, I will repay’ says the Lord” (Rom 12:19; cf., 2 Th 1:6). There is no place for violent retaliation in the Christian life, as the Lord Himself will execute vengeance in His time and way.
If you are here this morning without Christ, without hope, and without eternal life, I want you to know that when Jesus was on the cross, He had you personally in mind as He bore your sin and paid the price for it. He died and paid the penalty for your sins so that you would not have to. Scripture reveals, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8), and “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). The good news for us is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4), and if we place our faith in Him as the only Savior (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), we are promised forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7), eternal life (John 10:28), and place in heaven forever (John 14:1-3). I “beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20).
Dr. Steven R. Cook
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 438.
 Ibid., 439.
 Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Ac 9:18.