Editor’s Note: I am currently blogging through my book Easter: Fact or Fiction, 20 Reasons to Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead. That book is available on Amazon by clicking the picture or link below. Please check it out! (Scroll down for links to the other parts to this post) (CLICK HERE FOR THE AMAZON LINK)
“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the high priest and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
“Who are You, Lord?” he said.
“I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting,” He replied. “But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
- Acts 9:1-6
Things were going great, until he came along! During the first seven chapters of the book of Acts, the nascent church was growing explosively in numbers (Acts 2) and in love and unity towards each other (Acts 4). Though there were persecutions – various members of the apostolic team were arrested and beaten for preaching about Jesus – by and large, things were going swimmingly for the church, “They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47-48) Saul, a young and gifted Pharisee trained by the highly respected council member Gamaliel, aimed to disrupt all the prosperity that the early church was enjoying.
He was there when the first martyr of the church, Stephen, was viciously stoned for preaching truth. Not only was Saul there, according to Acts 8:1, he was there as a legal witness and representative that gave approval for the death sentence to be given to Stephen. There was no trial, and Saul was no judge, but he yet saw fit to give legal permission for an impromptu execution, and Stephen – one of the early church’s best and brightest – was brutally stoned. That didn’t seem to satisfy the anger and hostility of Saul at all. His one-man campaign against the followers of Jesus only grew after that point. Luke explains it like this, in Acts 8:3, “Saul, however, was ravaging the church. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison.” The result of these focused efforts by Saul was that the entire church in Jerusalem was impacted, and many fled Jerusalem, scattering across the Roman world at the time. Unbeknownst to Saul, God was using his persecutions to spread the good news of Jesus beyond the borders of Israel!
Even after his persecutions and arrests had scattered the Jerusalem church, Saul’s mission continued unabated. Acts chapter 9 sees that Saul is “breathing murderous threats” against the church, and receiving the blessing of the high priest in Jerusalem to go outside the country of Israel in order to arrest followers of Jesus, and return them to Israel for trial. While on such a mission to the Syrian city of Damascus, Saul has a blinding and terrifying encounter on the road. During that encounter, he comes face to face with his enemy, Jesus. According to Saul’s testimony, Jesus confronts Saul for persecuting Himself and His followers, blinds him, and instructs him to go into Damascus for further instruction. While in Damascus, Saul meets a disciple named Ananias, who reluctantly prays for him, lifting Saul’s blindness. Ultimately, Saul converts, takes a new name (Paul), and becomes the great missionary and evangelist of the early church. As a side note of interest, if you read Paul’s THREE accounts of his meeting Jesus on the Damascus road, you might be surprised to find that there is no horse/donkey mentioned at all! Like the “apple” in the Garden of Eden, Saul’s horse is never mentioned in the Bible, but is the product of the imaginations of later artists, like Michelangelo, in this particular case.
If one desires to be a skeptic of the resurrection of Jesus, then there needs to be an answer given for the dramatic conversion of the apostle Paul. To say that He completely changed his mind on the basis of anything other than a convincing and certain encounter with the risen Jesus is to strain the bounds of credibility. It is rare, if not utterly unheard of, for a person to completely change the passionate course of their life based on flimsy evidence. To propose that Paul did such a dramatic 180 turnaround simply on the basis of having an imaginary encounter with Jesus is ridiculous….(Continued)
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Links to the other 20 posts in this series (20 Reasons To Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead)