Read the Passage: Acts 9:1-31
Paul’s Life: Pre-Conversion (9:1–2)
Earlier in the book of Acts, at Acts 7:58 and 8:1–3, we were introduced to “a young man named Saul,” who became Paul (Acts 7:58), who was a great persecutor of the church. The majority of the book of Acts is a narrative of Paul’s life and ministry; yet here in Acts 9, Paul is still unregenerate. Indeed, little more information other than the fact that Paul was an enemy of the church is given here; however, we later learn that Paul was a Jew from Tarsus, a Pharisee, a Roman citizen, and a student of the greatest rabbi of his time—that is, Rabbi Gamaliel (cf. Acts 5:34; 22:3–5). The text sums up Paul’s pre-conversion life with the statements that Paul was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1). Further, we read that after the dispersion of believers from Jerusalem, Paul obtained authority from the high priest to persecute Jewish Christians in Damascus, a city with a great Jewish population, some one hundred and sixty miles northeast of Jerusalem.
Paul’s Life: Conversion (9:3–19)
The majority of this chapter is given over to a description of the conversion of Paul, a event that is recounted in Acts 22:1–21; 26:9–20; and Phil. 3:1–14. In Acts 9:3–9 we read of the appearance of Jesus to Paul on the road to Damascus. On this occasion, the first of five visions of Christ that Paul receives in the book of Acts (cf. Acts 16:9-10; 18:9-10; 22:17-18; 23:11), Jesus asked Paul, “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). After learning that the one who spoke was Jesus (cf. Acts 9:5), Paul, who was blinded by the vision, submitted to Christ, asking “What do you want me to do?” (Acts 9:6). The text then reports that Paul was led into the city of Damascus where he awaited word from the Lord. Note that while it is not reported in Acts 9, in Acts 26:14–18 Paul reports to King Agrippa that at this time the Lord also called him to Christian ministry, even revealing that he would become an apostle to the Gentiles.
In Acts 9:10–19 we read of Ananias’ visit to Paul in Damascus. Just as Jesus had appeared to Paul, so also the Lord appeared to Ananias, a leader in the Damascus church (cf. Acts 22:12), and commanded him to visit Paul. Understandably, Ananias, who is to be distinguished from the Ananias in the narrative of Acts 5:1–11, questioned the command, for Paul had a reputation as an enemy of Christ and a persecutor of the church. Being assured of God’s plan for Paul, however, Ananias obeyed and went and found Paul. During Ananias’ visit and prayer, Paul miraculously received his sight back, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and was baptized. After eating and recovering his strength, the text reports that Paul “spent some days with the disciples of Damascus” (Acts 9:19). Surely this time with believers in Damascus was a time of great discipleship and sanctification for Paul.
Paul’s Life: Post-Conversion (9:20–31)
In Acts 9:20–25 we begin to read of Paul’s post-conversion life. After spending some time with the brethren, the text reports, “Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). While it may seem surprising that Paul would begin ministering to the Jews, even though he was called to be an apostle to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 9:15; 26:17), this was only logical, for Paul was a Jew and those in the synagogue were his former colleagues. As with Ananias, the Jews were astonished at Paul’s conversion to Christianity (cf. Acts 9:21). Through this ministry, Paul “increased all the more in strength” (Acts 9:22), even growing to the point that the Jews plotted to kill him (cf. Acts 9:23–24). This made necessary a night-time escape over the wall of the city, and Paul’s subsequent flight to Jerusalem.
In Acts 9:26–31 we see an additional event in Paul’s immediate post-conversion life. The text reports that upon leaving Damascus, likely after a three-year ministry that included time in Arabia (cf. Gal. 1:17–18), Paul fled to Jerusalem. As was the case with Ananias (cf. Acts 9:13–14), and with the Jews of Damascus (cf. Acts 9:21), so the apostles in Jerusalem were wary of Paul’s presence and conversion. Yet, after testimony from Barnabus, a leader in the Jerusalem church (cf. Acts 4:36), Paul was accepted and began to minister, speaking “boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 9:29). Then, after only fifteen days (cf. Gal. 1:18), the Jews purposed to take Paul’s life. This forced Paul to flee again, this time from Jerusalem to Caesarea, and then Tarsus, where he would stay for the next ten years (cf. Acts 11:25).
- Given that Acts 13–28 contains the account of Paul’s ministry, why do you think his conversion is given here in Acts 9:1–31?
- What was your life pre-conversion? What did you think of Christianity? Did you ever “persecute” believers before coming to faith?
- Why does Jesus ask Paul, who was a persecutor of the church, “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4)?
- When do you believe Paul was saved: on the road to Damascus or in Damascus upon the visit of Ananias?
- Ought Paul’s rapid growth and ministry to be seen as unusual? Have you ever witnessed or experienced rapid sanctification?