The importance of this section need hardly be stated. Here we have related the early preparations for the fulfillment of Christ’s own Word just before His ascension: “Ye shall be my witnesses…unto the uttermost part of the earth.” For the conversion of Saul, spectacular and significant as it is by itself, has certainly its chief end in this, that the Lord prepared His chosen vessel to bear His name unto the Gentiles.
The story itself is rather well-known – so well-known that we may be inclined to pass over it hastily. Let us not do this. But rather let us make a careful study, comparing this passage with other passages concerning the same event, and especially trying to note the real character of this conversion. The apostle Paul makes several references to his own conversion, and more than once speaks of his state before and after his conversion. As far as the history of his conversion and the events connected with it are concerned, there are, first of all, two references in the book of Acts itself, both of them records of Paul’s own account. There is his defense at Jerusalem, immediately after his capture, recorded in Acts 22:1-22. And there is his speech before Agrippa, especially the portion in 4-20 of Acts 26. Then there is the passage in Galatians 1:11-24, where Paul speaks of these same events especially from the point of view of his right of apostleship and from the point of view of the way in which he received the gospel which he preached. There is a further historical reference in II Corinthians 11:32, 33. And there is the reference to the fact that he saw the risen Lord, found in I Corinthians 15. Significant as to the nature of this conversion are also such passages as Philippians 3:3-11 and I Timothy 1:12-16. Hence, there is an abundance of material to study.
The record of Acts 9 divides itself quite naturally into the following sections:
I. On the way to Damascus. Chapter 9:1-9.
A. The events as such:
1. Where was Saul going?
a. Locate Damascus geographically. Is it referred to elsewhere in Scripture? Was there a church there? Was it begun through persecution?
b. Was Damascus under the jurisdiction of the Jewish high priest? What was the relationship between the authorities at Jerusalem and the Jews and Jewish synagogues elsewhere?
2. What was Saul’s purpose?
a. Had the scattering of the church in Jerusalem put an end to the persecution?
b. What was Saul’s own attitude at this time? Vs. 1.
1) Compare what he himself says in Acts 26.
2) If you trace what we are told of Saul beginning with his appearance at the stoning of Stephen up to this point, is there any development evident?
3. His conversion:
a. Its visible aspect:
1) The bright light:
a) Compare Acts 9, 22, 26. Do they agree as to what was seen and by whom it was seen?
b) When did this light shine? How bright was it?
c) What was the cause of this light? Did Saul see only the bright light, or did he see Jesus Himself? What did the men in his company see?
2) Its effect:
a) What effect did this light have on Paul? On those with him?
b) Why was Saul smitten with blindness? Why not the men with him? Did they not behold the same light?
c) Was there any significance in this blindness? Explain.
b. Its audible aspect:
1) What did Saul hear, vs. 4? Did those with him hear anything? Explain.
2) What does Saul’s question indicate, vs. 5? What did he mean by “Lord”? Why did Saul recognize this voice?
3) What is the meaning of Jesus’ answer, vs. 5?
4) What is the result of this voice upon Saul, vs. 6?
4. The end of the journey:
a. Does Saul continue to Damascus? What became of his purpose to persecute? Was he able to persecute at this time?
b. Why does the Lord let him wait for three days?
c. What is the significance of the fact that he neither ate nor drank during this period of three days?
Note: Even though the personal conversion of Saul and his conversion to the apostleship are closely intertwined, also in the narrative, we may nevertheless distinguish them. Theoretically speaking, it might have been possible that Saul became a Christian without becoming an apostle. We have here, therefore, not only an instance of the calling to office, but a most striking instance of the wonder of conversion.
1. What was the nature of the change that was wrought in Saul at this time? Compare his “before” and “after” state. Make this comparison on the basis of Scripture.
a. Was it merely a change from the old dispensational view of things to the new dispensational view and understanding of things? Was it much like the change wrought on the apostles and the church at the day of Pentecost?
b. Was it a case of Saul’s being converted from a “misguided love,” which wasnevertheless a true love of God?
c. Or was it a radical, spiritual “about face,” so that at this time Saul was “translated from the power of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son”?
2. Who was the author of this conversion? Saul? Jesus Christ? Or perhaps Saul and Jesus cooperatively?
3. Is such a sudden and spectacular conversion experience the ideal for which we should be desirous? Is it the rule in the sphere of the covenant? Should you doubt whether you are truly a child of God unless you have very suddenly been converted and can point, as could Paul, to the exact time and place of your conversion?
4. Can we say anything as to the divine purpose in converting Saul in exactly this way? Is there any connection between this and his being destined and prepared to be the apostle to the Gentiles?
II. At Damascus. Chapter 9:10-22
A. Visited by Ananias:
1. The vision of Ananias:
a. What is a vision?
b. What were the contents of the vision of Ananias?
1) Why does Ananias receive such exact instructions?
2) What is the significance of the fact that “behold, he prayeth”?
3) Is there connection between Saul’s praying and his seeing a vision?
4) Why are there complementary visions at this occasion, one of Ananias and one of Saul?
5) What is Ananias’ objection? (Incidentally, does his language show that he had personal experience with the persecution at Jerusalem, or rather that he had been in Damascus prior to the persecution?)
6) How does the Lord answer that objection? What does this show of God’s “choice”?
7) What things did Paul have to suffer for the name of Christ?
8) Who spoke to Ananias in this vision? Who is meant by “Lord”?
c. Why must Ananias, an ordinary disciple, carry out this mission? Why not one of the apostles?
2. Ananias visits Saul:
a. How does Ananias address Saul?
b. What miracle is performed upon Saul?
1) What is the significance of the “scales” falling from his eyes?
2) What is the connection between the physical and the spiritual in this miracle, if any?
c. What does it mean that Saul is now “filled with the Holy Ghost”?
d. Why is he baptized? Was not his circumcision sufficient?
B. His Stay at Damascus:
1. What is the effect upon Saul of this conversion and the visit of Ananias?
2. What does he preach of the Christ? Is this significant?
3. Where did he preach?
4. What was the fruit of his preaching?
5. What reaction did this reaction of his hearers have upon Saul? Was there development for Saul?
6. Why does not Saul immediately go to the Gentiles? Why must he first be in Damascus and have contact with the Jews?
7. How long was Saul in Damascus? See also the other passages of Scripture which speak of this early history of Paul.
III. To Jerusalem:
A. Escape from Damascus:
1. To what does the “many days” refer? Cf. Galatians 1.
a. What was the purpose of this period of three years?
b. Was it merely a period of waiting, of prayer, of meditation?
2. His escape:
a. Who sought to take Saul’s life? Cf. II Cor. 11.
b. How did he escape?
B. To Jerusalem:
1. What was the reaction of the disciples at Jerusalem to Saul’s attempt to fellowship with them?
2. Who took Paul to the apostles?
3. Which of the apostles did Paul contact?
4. Here we read of Paul’s preaching and of his coming and going at Jerusalem. In Galatians Paul tells us that he was unknown by face to the churches at Judea.
Harmonize these elements.
5. Why is it especially mentioned that Paul disputed with the Grecians? What was the reaction of these Grecians? Significance?
6. In vs. 30 do we have the full account of Paul’s departure from Jerusalem and the reason for it? Cf. Acts 22:17-21.
C. Rest for the church:
1. Is this period of rest connected with Saul’s conversion?
2. Can there be found a reason in the history of the relation between the Romans and the Jews that might also account for this period of rest?
3. What was the purpose (and result) of the period of rest for the church? Why?