Here is a major turning point in Acts and in the history of the church. Luke repeats incidents in his narrative for emphasis (see Acts 22:6–21; 26:12–18).
Paul never forgets what a zealous persecutor of the church he was (Phil. 3:6, 1 Tim. 1:15–16; 1 Cor. 15:9). He had authority from the high priest in Jerusalem to arrest followers of the Way in the synagogues of Damascus, and take them back to Jerusalem. His experience is much like that of Moses in Exodus 3:2 ff.:
a light, a voice (Acts 9:3–4; Exod. 3:2–4);
the solemn repetition of the name “Saul, Saul” (Acts 9:4) and “Moses! Moses!” (Exod 3:4).
Notice Jesus asks Saul why Saul is persecuting Him (v. 4). Jesus takes persecution of the followers of the Way personally; to persecute them is to persecute Him. One of Saul’s first lessons is to learn of the solidarity of the believer and Christ. It is little wonder that the concept of being “in Christ” dominates His teaching (see Matt. 10:40). Jesus’ question indicates that He is looking for the reason for Saul’s zealous persecution. Saul, however, is far more interested in who is addressing Him (v. 5). Jesus identifies Himself by His earthly name and address (v. 5; Acts 22:8) as the one who in reality is being persecuted by Saul. The Lord Jesus, however, has plans for Saul, and tells him to go into Damascus and wait (v. 6).
Saul understands the Damascus road experience as his conversion, his seeing of the resurrected Christ (1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8). The conversion of such a zealous persecutor as Saul provides further evidence for the truth and power of the gospel to save. No one could argue that Saul’s seeing the resurrected Christ was wishful thinking on his part.
The zealous persecutor becomes the zealous apostle. “Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound) That sav’d a wretch like me!”*
What are some of the characteristics evidenced by Jesus on the Damascus road? Why do you think the conversion of Saul is such a major turning point for Luke?
*John Newton, 1725–1807 Olney Hymns.