1. IN ZEALOUS FURY
a. Who was Saul of Tarsus, and what misguided mission was he zealously carrying out? Philippians 3:5, 6; Acts 26:4, 5, 9–11.
“[Saul] had no personal knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth or of His mission, but he readily imbibed the scorn and hatred of the rabbis toward one who was so far from fulfilling their ambitious hopes; and after the death of Christ, he eagerly joined with priests and rulers in the persecution of His followers as a proscribed and hated sect.”—Sketches From the Life of Paul, p. 10.
b. Yet, what scene had somehow troubled Saul’s mind? Acts 6:8–12; 7:57–60.
“There had been no legal sentence passed upon Stephen; but the Roman authorities were bribed by large sums of money to make no investigation of the case. Saul seemed to be imbued with a frenzied zeal at the scene of Stephen’s trial and death. He seemed to be angered at his own secret convictions that Stephen was honored of God at the very period when he was dishonored of men.”—Ibid., p. 20.
2. ABRUPTLY ARRESTED
a. Explain Saul’s perspective and aim on the way to Damascus. Acts 9:1, 2.
“Saul was greatly esteemed by the Jews for his zeal in persecuting the believers. After the death of Stephen, he was elected a member of the Sanhedrim council, in consideration of the part he had acted on that occasion. This learned and zealous rabbi was a mighty instrument in the hand of Satan to carry out his rebellion against the Son of God.”—Sketches From the Life of Paul, p. 20.
“Saul was about to journey to Damascus upon his own business; but he was determined to accomplish a double purpose, by searching out, as he went, all the believers in Christ. For this purpose he obtained letters from the high priest to read in the synagogues, which authorized him to seize all those who were suspected of being believers in Jesus, and to send them by messengers to Jerusalem, there to be tried and punished.”—Ibid., p. 21.
b. What suddenly halted the fury of Saul—and how did he respond in fear? Acts 9:3–5 (first part).
c. What was Saul shocked to discover? Acts 9:5 (middle part).
“What a humiliation it was to Paul to know that all the time he was using his powers against the truth, thinking he was doing God’s service, he was persecuting Christ. When the Saviour revealed Himself to Paul in the bright beams of His glory, he was filled with abhorrence for his work and for himself. The power of Christ’s glory might have destroyed him, but Paul was a prisoner of hope. He was made physically blind by the glory of the presence of Him whom he had blasphemed, but it was that he might have spiritual sight, that he might be awakened from the lethargy that had stupefied and deadened his perceptions. His conscience, aroused, now worked with self-accusing energy. The zeal of his work, his earnest resistance of the light shining upon him through God’s messengers, now brought condemnation to his soul.”—The SDA Bible Commentary [E. G. White Comments], vol. 6, p. 1058.
3. AWAKENED AS FROM A DREAM
a. What did Jesus mean by His concluding remark? Acts 9:5 (last part).
“The Saviour had spoken to Saul through Stephen, whose clear reasoning could not be controverted. The learned Jew had seen the face of the martyr reflecting the light of Christ’s glory—appearing as if ‘it had been the face of an angel’ (Acts 6:15). He had witnessed Stephen’s forbearance toward his enemies and his forgiveness of them. He had also witnessed the fortitude and cheerful resignation of many whom he had caused to be tormented and afflicted. He had seen some yield up even their lives with rejoicing for the sake of their faith.
“All these things had appealed loudly to Saul and at times had thrust upon his mind an almost overwhelming conviction that Jesus was the promised Messiah. At such times he had struggled for entire nights against this conviction.”—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 116.
“Every effort to stay the onward progress of the gospel results in injury and suffering to the opposer. Sooner or later his own heart will condemn him; he will find that he has, indeed, been kicking against the pricks.”—The Review and Herald, March 16, 1911.
b. How did Saul react upon seeing he had been wrong? Acts 9:6 (first half).
“[Saul] was filled with bitter remorse. He no longer saw himself as righteous, but condemned by the law in thought, in spirit, and in deeds. He saw himself a sinner, utterly lost, without the Saviour he had been persecuting.”—The SDA Bible Commentary [E. G. White Comments], vol. 6, p. 1058.
c. What followed in Saul’s experience? Acts 9:6 (last half), 9.
“In the days and nights of [Saul’s] blindness he had time for reflection, and he cast himself all helpless and hopeless upon Christ, the only one who could pardon him and clothe him with righteousness.”—Ibid.
4. DRASTIC CHANGE AT DAMASCUS
a. How did Christ bless Saul in Damascus? Acts 9:10, 15–18; 22:13–16.
“How different from what [Saul] had anticipated was his entrance into that city! In proud satisfaction he had neared Damascus, expecting on his arrival to be greeted with ostentation and applause because of the honor conferred upon him by the high priest, and the great zeal and penetration he had manifested in searching out the believers, to carry them as captives to Jerusalem, there to be condemned, and punished without mercy. . . . He had determined that no Christian should escape his vigilance; he would inquire of men, women, and children concerning their faith, and that of those with whom they were connected; he would enter houses, with power to seize their inmates, and to send them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
“But how changed was the scene from that which he had anticipated! Instead of wielding power and receiving honor, he was himself virtually a prisoner, being deprived of sight, and dependent upon the guidance of his companions. Helpless, and tortured by remorse, he felt himself to be under the sentence of death. . . .
“He seemed to be utterly shut out from human sympathy; and he reflected, and prayed with a thoroughly broken and repentant spirit.
“Those three days were like three years to the blind and conscience-smitten Jew.”—Sketches From the Life of Paul, pp. 25, 27.
“The faith of Saul was severely tested during the three days of fasting and prayer at the house of Judas, in Damascus. He was totally blind, and in utter darkness of mind as to what was required of him. . . . In his uncertainty and distress he cried earnestly to God.”—Ibid., p. 29.
“Saul becomes a learner of the disciples. In the light of the law he sees himself a sinner. He sees that Jesus, whom in his ignorance he had considered an imposter, is the author and foundation of the religion of God’s people from the days of Adam, and the finisher of the faith now so clear to his enlightened vision. . . .
“By the light of the moral law, which he had believed himself to be zealously keeping, Saul saw himself a sinner of sinners. He repented, that is, died to sin, became obedient to the law of God, exercised faith in Jesus Christ as his Saviour, was baptized, and preached Jesus as earnestly and zealously as he had once denounced Him.”—Ibid., pp. 30, 31.
“This wonderful conversion of Saul demonstrates in a startling manner the miraculous power of Christ in convicting the mind and heart of man.”—Ibid., p. 27.
“Saul the persecutor was converted and became Paul the apostle to the Gentiles.”—Prophets and Kings, p. 699.
5. A DIVINE COMMISSION
a. Explain the distinct calling given to Saul—whose Hebrew name meaning “asked for, prayed for”—was later known by his name as a Roman citizen, “Paul,” meaning “small” or “humble.” Acts 26:16–18.
b. What central theme was he to emphasize—and why? Galatians 1:3.
“ ‘Grace be to you’ (Ephesians 1:2). We owe everything to God’s free grace. Grace in the covenant ordained our adoption. Grace in the Saviour effected our redemption, our regeneration, and our exaltation to heirship with Christ. Not because we first loved Him did God love us; but ‘while we were yet sinners,’ Christ died for us. . . . Although by our disobedience we have merited God’s displeasure and condemnation, yet He has not forsaken us, leaving us to grapple with the power of the enemy. Heavenly angels fight our battles for us, and cooperating with them, we may be victorious over the powers of evil.
“We should never have learned the meaning of this word ‘grace’ had we not fallen. God loves the sinless angels, who do His service and are obedient to all His commands, but He does not give them grace. These heavenly beings know nought of grace; they have never needed it, for they have never sinned. Grace is an attribute of God shown to undeserving human beings. We ourselves did not seek after it, but it was sent out in search of us. God rejoices to bestow this grace upon all who hunger for it, not because we are worthy, but because we are so utterly unworthy. Our need is the qualification which gives us the assurance that we shall receive this gift.
“God’s supply of grace is waiting the demand of every sinsick soul. It will heal every spiritual disease. By it hearts may be cleansed from all defilement. It is the gospel remedy for everyone who believes.”—In Heavenly Places, p. 34.
PERSONAL REVIEW QUESTIONS
1. How may the Lord be sending me pricks of conscience as He did to Saul?
2. What happens when we either accept or reject those pricks of conscience?
3. How is the Lord wanting me to benefit from Saul’s early experience?
4. Why were the three days of blindness so essential to Saul’s future?
5. How can I be encouraged by the central theme of Paul’s message?