The Story of Paul’s Conversion
AN EXPOSITION OF ACTS 22:1-10
The setting for the words of Paul in this chapter is Jerusalem. Paul arrived in the Holy City only to discover that his reputation had preceded him. The Church had heard of his conversion and ministry. Paul was able to declare “particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry.” (Acts 21:19) When the Church heard Paul’s report, “they glorified the Lord.” (Acts 21:20)
But Paul’s reputation was also known among the Jews in Jerusalem, those who hated the Christians, and resented anyone trying to make converts. Therefore, when Paul went into the Temple to convince the Jews that he too was a keeper of the Law, “the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him, 28 Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men everywhere against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.” (Acts 21:27-28)
A riot broke out. Paul was physically forced out of the Temple, and the doors were shut. The mob tried to kill Paul. Word reached the chief captain of the band, who immediately took soldiers and centurions and ran down the street. When the Jews saw the soldiers ceased beating Paul, which allowed him to be in protective custody. The arresting officer was suspicious of Paul, thinking he was an infamous Egyptian who had formerly caused trouble in the land. (Acts 21:38)
To the officer’s surprise, Paul began to speak to him in Greek, and then asked to address the Jewish mob. When he was given permission, “Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue, saying.” (Acts 21:4)
1 Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defence which I make now unto you.
Paul begins his defense with words of respect for his audience. It is always wise to be as polite as possible before an emotionally charged and hostile audience. A soft answer is designed to turn away wrath. (Prov. 15:1)
2(And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue [language] to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith,)
Paul’s polite address caught the Jews by surprise. Not because he was respectful, but because he could speak the Hebrew language. Later, when the people of Corinth became enamored with tongues, Paul would say, “I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all.” (1 Cor. 14:18). Paul meant he spoke in more languages than anyone in Corinth, for he spoke Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and Aramaic. When Paul spoke to the Jews in Jerusalem in Hebrew, they were impressed, and kept silent allowing him to continue with his narrative.
3 I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.
Paul had a word of personal testimony, which emphasized his Jewish heritage. First, he was a Jew by birth, and not a proselyte, as others in the audience might have been. Second, he had enjoyed all the advantages of a Jewish education. He had sat at the feet of Gamaliel, the grandson of the renown rabbi Hillel, who, among the Jewish doctors was called the “Beauty of the Law.” Third, Paul declared that he had been taught “according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers,” meaning that he was conservative in his theology. He was not like the Herodians, who cared only for political power. Nor was he like the liberal Sadducees, who denied the existence of angels, and the bodily resurrection. Finally, Paul was zealous toward God, just as those who protested his presence were zealous for God. In a subtle way Paul was saying, “You and I are not enemies.”
Not only was Paul conservative in his theological beliefs, he was perfect in the Law, meaning that he gave strict diligence, or exact care, to practice the Law of Moses. He was a Pharisee of the Pharisees.
As a devout Pharisee, Paul, as Saul of Tarsus, was willing to persecute those who were not so zealous for the Law. This would include people of The Way.
4 And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women.
So sincere was Paul in his zeal for God, as he understood Him, Paul did not care whom he hurt. He would bind men and women and deliver them into prisons for trial and judgment. The ultimate form of judgment would be death. There were many crimes which mandated capital punishment in the Torah, including disrespect for the Law. Capital crimes reflect a given system of values. Before his conversion, Paul, as Saul of Tarsus, sincerely believed that Christians violated the Jewish system of values.
5 As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished.
Confirmation for Paul’s hostility towards people of The Way could be confirmed by the high priest, a reference to Theophilus, son of Ananus, who had been appointed to this great honor at the Feast of Pentecost in AD 37 by Vitellius, the Roman governor. More conformation to Paul’s testimony could be found in the Sanhedrin, the ruling leaders of Israel.
Had Paul stopped with this personal testimony, the outcome of the situation would have been far different. His words might have appeased the crowd, and even pleased many. He was certainly a man of distinction. He was a man who moved in the top echelon of society.
But then Paul went on to share something else. He was not only a racial Jew, and a religious Jew, he was a converted Jew. He was a follower of Jesus, the Messiah.
How Paul became a follower of Christ forms the next part of his narrative. Paul confesses that he personally met the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. It was a dramatic and glorious encounter.
6 And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me.
Paul remembered that he was on his way to the city of Damascus. It was about noon time. Suddenly there shone a brilliant light of majestic splendor from heaven that encircled him.
7 And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
Blinded by the heavenly light, Paul stumbled and fell to the ground, when he heard a voice saying unto him, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” It was the voice of Jesus.
8 And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest.
Despite being dazzled by the light, the mind of Saul was illuminated by the Holy Spirit, for that is what light does. Both physical light and spiritual light illuminates the darkness. Apart from the Holy Spirit making an individual to see, the gospel will be lost to those who are blinded by the god of this world.
The various ways Satan blinds men from seeing the truth are known. First, Satan questions the word of God. Second, Satan challenges the goodness of God. Third, Satan denies the truth of God’s word and substitutes his own thoughts, for Satan too has an objective. He wants to be like God. Sadly, people are not even curious whether or not they are being blinded by Satan. This is why they are called the natural man in Scripture. It is natural for individuals to be totally self-centered. They are totally depraved.
Once the Holy Spirit brings a spiritual awakening, the trembling heart is able to ask, “Who art thou, Lord?”
Jesus will answer the questioning heart and say, “Yes, it is I. I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest.”
There were two ways Saul of Tarsus was persecuting Jesus. First, Saul persecuted Jesus by harboring hatred in his heart. The mention of the name of Jesus enraged Saul, as that precious name still enrages people today, to the point that the name of Jesus is used as a curse word, or as an expression of exasperation. No other deity is used in a profane way, but the name of Jesus is. The ungodly take the name of the Lord and use it in a vain or empty way. Second, Saul of Tarsus persecuted Jesus by persecuting the Church. So closely is Jesus identified with His people, that to hurt them is to offend Him.
Today, in these two same ways, the unbeliever continues to persecute Jesus. The ungodly use His name in vain, and they hate the Church. Only sovereign grace will arrest their madness. And, if grace does not come to their heart, they will die in their sins, and be forever condemned.
Paul remembered how grace came to him as a voice from heaven. But notice, the same grace that was shown to Saul of Tarsus, was not extended to those around him.
9 And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.
Those who were with Saul saw the same majestic blinding light he did, but they did not hear the voice of the Lord. Why? The Biblical answer is given by Jesus, who said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:” (John 10:27) Salvation is of the Lord. This means that salvation is selective. God chooses those who are to be the heirs of redeeming grace, and passes over the others. In His sovereignty, God is under no obligation to save anyone. That He saves some is according to His mercy.
Every unbeliever would be wise to ask, “Am I one of God’s elect?” “Have I been chosen to eternal life?” The answer might be, “Yes.” Confirmation comes by following Jesus. The honest answer might be, “No.” One day Jesus turned to some people and said to them, “Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” (John 5:40) No more terrifying words than these are found in all of Scripture.
Why would these people not come to Jesus? Because the same sun which melts the butter, hardens the clay. The same gospel which melted the heart of Saul, hardened his travelling companions who were also persecuting Jesus and His Church.
One sign of salvation is gospel obedience, which is why we read Paul’s first question after his conversion.
10 And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do.
“And I said, What shall I do, Lord?” It has been said that if Jesus is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all. While the truth of that thought is not quite theologically accurate, the sentiment is. Every true believer wants to know Jesus as LORD as well as Saviour. We want Jesus to be our Master, our Teacher, our Leader, as well as our Saviour and our Sanctifier. May this be true of all who come under the sound of the gospel, this day. Amen.