by Herman R. Rocke

"...from darkness to light..." -- Acts 26:18

THE RISEN CHRIST in His celestial glory, after having commissioned Saul, directed him to proceed to the city which was near (Acts 9:3), and to wait there for further instructions: "Go into Damascus, and there you will be spoken to concerning all which has been set for you to do" (Acts 22:10).

      The men who had traveled from Jerusalem with Saul, in a north-easterly direction, for about 140 miles, were probably a little distance away from him when they saw "a light out of heaven" (Acts 9:3; 22:9), and all of them fell on their faces (Acts 26:14). Since the vision was intended for Saul only, these men beheld "no one"; they were "dumbfounded" for they heard the "sound" of the Lord's voice, but they did not recognize it as His voice, nor did they hear the words which were spoken (Acts 9:7; 22:9). When Saul opened his eyes again, there was darkness around him, "he observed nothing." Christ's celestial glory, "above the brightness of the sun," had blinded his eyes to the things on earth (Acts 9:8; 22:11; 26:13). One of his attendants took him by the hand, and thus "they led him into Damascus" (Acts 9:8), where he did not eat nor drink for three days.

      We do not know Saul's thoughts during those days. We may assume, however, that he realized that he had gone a long way in blindness and darkness--that he had been in this condition ever since he had entered Gamaliel's rabbinical college in Jerusalem. Later, as a young Pharisee, the influential members of the Sanhedrin had led him by the hand; these were the very men who had never recognized the Lord of glory, or they would not have crucified the One in Whom God's glory had returned (1 Cor.2:8). Then Saul had progressed in Judaism above many of his contemporaries and "inordinately persecuted the ecclesia of God and ravaged it" (Gal.1:13,14).

      We may further assume that Saul realized that he had been injuring himself rather than the Lord of glory against Whom his murderous campaign had been directed. When Christ asked him on the road, "Why are you persecuting Me?", His meaning was clear. He was saying, "You cannot hurt Me, nor wipe out My believers; you are only hurting yourself by kicking against the goads" (Acts 26:14). The Concordant Commentary explains: "In the Orient a sharp, pointed rod is used in place of a whip to urge animals to their task. To kick the sharp goad hurts no one but themselves. This is a graphic picture of Saul's service up to this time. The Lord was using him to carry out His purpose, but hitherto Saul did not acknowledge his Master. He had been goaded into persecuting the saints. Henceforth he was to render willing, intelligent service. Henceforth he acknowledges Christ as his Lord."

      There was no reason for Saul to worry about his future service under the new commission, since his Lord had promised to give him more detailed instructions in Damascus. We may assume that his prayerful thoughts centered around the words which the risen Christ in His celestial glory had spoken to him on the road. During the first three days of his stay in Damascus he was surrounded by physical darkness which provided the background for the initial stage of his readjustment, when he came to see new spiritual realities.

      At this juncture, we would like to quote from Unsearchable Riches magazine, volume 39, page 44, so as to grasp some of the spiritual realities which were dawning on Saul, either during those three days or at a later period.

      "Nationally, Saul belonged to those who were about to fall from God's favor. Individually, he exceeded them all in opposition to the Messiah. He endorsed the assassination of Stephen (Acts 8:1). Then he devastated the ecclesia of God, actually going into the homes and dragging out both men and women, he gave them over to jail (Acts 8:3). No one in Israel deserved a worse doom than he. What Ananias and Sapphira did was nothing to his atrocities, and they suffered the supreme penalty. No penalty could be too severe for him, no death too fearful. If God's attitude is still the same, He would most miserably destroy him.

      "But God has changed His attitude entirely! He does not send a Philip nor a Peter, but Christ Himself comes to meet the mad man. He does not strike him dead, as he deserves, but grants him the greatest grace ever given to a mortal. In an instant He transformed him from His worst enemy to His most faithful and fervent friend. Here was reconciliation at its fullest and finest. Let us note some of its salient features. God was about to judge the nation for their rejection of the evangel of the kingdom, and Saul, as an individual, was the worst of the rebels. According to all that had been revealed, God was due to destroy him. But He does the reverse! He treats him as if he were His best friend. He does not reckon his offenses against him (2 Cor.5:19). And He never does! Paul suffered much for His name's sake, but never for his persecution of the saints, and never for any mistakes he may have made in his later life, from the hands of God. For He is conciliated, and all that comes to him henceforth is for his good.

      "Saul's gracious and glorious call on the Damascus road, like Peter's housetop vision (Acts 10:9-20), was intended to teach him, by the most powerful means at God's command, the limitless grace of God, to which he should bear witness before the nations. In this light we can see that even Saul's murderous career, which preceded his call, was necessary, and can be justified from the divine standpoint. To display in him the limitless grace that God intended to impart to the nations, demanded that he deserve the severest judgment, such as the bowls of wrath which He will pour out on the apostate nation at the time of the end. Had Saul not been the foremost of sinners, he could not have become a pattern of those who were about to believe (1 Tim.1:15,16).


      "In Saul's gracious call we have not only God's friendly attitude toward him individually displayed, but His repudiation of Israel as His religious representatives to the rest of the world, for now he was to replace the priests in bearing God's name before their kings, nationally, as well as before the sons of Israel. They were none of them as worthy of judgment as Saul, so God stretches out the hand of friendship to the whole race. As Paul wrote later, "that God was in Christ, conciliating the world to Himself, not reckoning their offenses to them" (2 Cor. 5:19).

      "God did not wait for Saul to repent or to pray or to turn to Him before He called him by His grace. So, also, now, God is conciliated to the world including all of every race. All that they need to do in order to be saved is to respond to His grace by believing the special evangel of which Paul became the dispenser (Eph.3:7; 1 Tim.1:11; 2 Tim.1:11)."


      Saul was a blind man of ill fame in a strange city, and unable to establish contact with the Jewish believers there, for his recent persecution of believers in Jerusalem and elsewhere was common knowledge, and his plans to continue his nefarious career in Damascus was no secret either. Hence the Lord Himself introduces him to those "who are of the way" (Acts 9:2b) in this town. For this purpose, Saul has another vision in which he sees "a man named Ananias entering and placing his hands on him so that he should be receiving sight" (Acts 9:12).

      At this time, Ananias, too, has a vision in which he recognizes the Lord speaking to him, "Rise! Go to the street called `Straight,' and seek in the house of Judas for a Tarsian named Saul, for, lo! he is praying. And he perceived in a vision a man named Ananias entering and placing his hands on him so that he should be receiving sight."

      The Concordant Commentary explains: "God graciously gives a double witness to His dealing with Saul. Ananias is quite his opposite, being a devout disciple. Saul would have found it almost impossible to join the disciples as he did without some such confirmatory testimony to his conversion, for Ananias himself was afraid to go, knowing what Saul had done and what he proposed to do."

      Ananias, "a pious man according to the law, being attested by all the Jews dwelling there" (Acts 22:12), was well aware of the sinister purpose of Saul's journey. Being afraid of him, he answers the Lord in his vision: "I hear from many about this man, how much evil he does to Thy saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who are invoking Thy name." But the Lord allays his apprehensions by telling him what had happened to Saul on the road outside the city and bids him "Go!" In addition, He advises him of the field and scope of Saul's future ministries: first and foremost to the nations, later to kings, and meanwhile to the sons of Israel among the nations. What must have impressed Ananias most, were the Lord's words, Saul "is a choice instrument of Mine."

      Apparently we do not have the full text of the conversation between the Lord and Ananias, nor does Luke report everything that passed between Ananias and Saul. The following combines the two accounts, giving us what may be the complete dialogue (Acts 9:17-19; 22:13-16):

      "Now Ananias came away and entered the house, and, placing his hands on him, said, `Saul! Brother! Receive your sight! The Lord has commissioned me (Jesus, Who was seen by you on the road by which you came), so that you should be receiving sight and be filled with holy spirit.' And immediately fall from his eyes as if scales, and he receives sight.

      "And I, in the same same hour, look up to him. Now he said, `The God of our fathers fixes upon you beforehand to know His will, and to be acquainted with the Just One, and to hear the voice of His mouth, that you shall be His witness to all men of what you have seen and hear. And now, why do you defer? Rise, baptize, and bathe off your sins, invoking His name.'

      "Besides, rising, also, he is baptized, and, obtaining nourishment, is strengthened."

      From this it seems that Ananias learned more details about Saul's conversion from the Lord which are not reported in Acts 9:15,16. For Ananias refers to "Jesus, Who was seen by you on the road by which you came." When introducing Saul to the Jewish believers in Damascus, Ananias would be able to corroborate Saul's story, even in details which he had learned in his own vision. Saul was going to be the witness of the risen Christ in His celestial glory as he had seen Him. Furthermore (in the words of Ananias) he was "to know His will...and to hear the voice of His mouth." In the Greek, the grammatical forms of "to know" as well as "to hear" and "you...hear" (Acts 22:14,15) indicate a fact not only of the past (three days ago on the road), but also of the present (Saul's vision in Judas' house), and of the future (such as referred to in Acts 22:17, 18; 2 Cor.12:4; Gal.1:12; Eph.3:3; 1 Thess.4:15).

      We may assume that the Lord's instructions to Ananias were worded as "placing his hands on him so that he should be receiving sight" (Acts 9:12), just as He described the contents of Saul's vision to Ananias. However, in the words of the latter (Acts 9:17), Saul is not only to "be receiving sight," but in addition to "be filled with holy spirit." Since this manifestation of the spirit depended on the authorized imposition of hands in those days, the Lord may not have mentioned it to Ananias. However, the sequence in Saul's case (filled with holy spirit prior to water baptism) deviated from the rule as laid down by Peter, when the gratuity of the holy spirit had to be preceded by compunction, repentance, and baptism (Acts 2:37,38).

      No such works were required from Saul in order to be filled with holy spirit. The eyes of his heart having been enlightened on the road three days ago (when he had not even asked for it), his physical eyesight restored now, Saul was sure to remember the Lord's words, "from darkness to light." As the Lord Himself had opened his eyes (both spiritually and physically), he was now ready to bear witness of what he had perceived. This is indicated by the phrase, "filled with holy spirit," i.e., in order to speak as the Lord had commissioned him.

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