Saul baffled the Jews in Damascus who expected him to defend Judaism against the new movement, but now he is preaching that Jesus is the Son of God (v. 20) and that Jesus is the Christ (v. 22). Luke tells of their reaction; they are astonished (v. 21) and baffled (v. 22). Meanwhile, Saul grows more and more powerful. He cannot be beaten in argument, and so the Jews plan to kill him (v. 23). Here is another example of unreasonable and unreasoning blind belligerence.
The reluctance of the brethren in Jerusalem to accept Saul is only broken by the encouraging intervention of Barnabas (v. 27). Saul’s activities are described as bold speech (v. 28), and talk and debate (v. 29), but again the last resort is not to recognize his argument but to seek to kill him (v. 29). For his own safety he is sent to his hometown of Tarsus.
The following verse (v. 31) is a summary of the life of the church at this time. It is probably about AD. 35. The church now has a time of peace. It is free of external threat, strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, growing numerically and living in reverence for God. With Saul’s conversion, the persecutions which followed the death of Stephen come to an end.
Luke’s description of Saul’s conversion is now complete. He was indeed God’s chosen instrument to bring about the spread of the gospel throughout the Roman Empire. F.F. Bruce says Paul’s contribution to the Gentile mission was “unique and far reaching.” He summarizes his emphases:
true religion is not a matter of rules but an expression of the indwelling Spirit in love;
in Christ, people constitute the new humanity;
people matter more than things, principles more than causes;
discrimination on the basis of race, religion, class or sex is an offence against God and humanity alike.
“If these lessons are important, it is well to give grateful credit to one man who taught them.”*
Note the experience of the church in Acts 9:31 compared with 6:7. Why will the church described in 9:31 always be blessed with growth? Saul’s opposition to Christ is apparent from chapters 7–9. How is his union with Christ now shown in 9:20–30? How is your union with Christ evident?
*F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Free Spirit (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1992).