The Conversion of Saul
By Isaac Massey Haldeman - (1845–1933)
[S.S. Lesson @ FBC, NYC, 1916]
From The Berea Baptist Banner
Acts 9:1-11, 17-19. Golden Text. - “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (I Timothy 1:15).
I. SAUL ON THE WAY TO DAMASCUS.
a. Who he was.
He was a Jew, of the tribe of Benjamin (Romans 11:1).
He was born in Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia (Acts 21:39; 22:3).
Although a Jew, he was born a Roman citizen (Acts 22:24-28).
On this basis as a Roman citizen he made his final appeal from the Jews to Caesar (Acts 25:10, 11).
b. His learning.
He spoke the “three” languages - Hebrew, Greek and Latin (Acts 21:37; 22:2).
To the centurion he spoke in Latin (Acts 22:25).
He was versed in Greek literature (Acts 17:28). A quotation from Aratus (Titus 1:12). A quotation from Epimenides.
He studied Hebrew theology and literature under Gamaliel (Acts 22:2, 3; 5:34).
c. His religious zeal (Acts 22:3).
The word “zealous,” is, properly, “zealot.”
The zealots were a party constituted mainly of the sect of the Pharisees. They were organized to resist any interference of Rome with their religious laws and customs. They were also organized to resist any attempt on the part of the Jews themselves to depart from the Mosaic law and the tradition of the elders. To accomplish their mission they were ready to use violence and persecute to the death.
Paul was an enrolled member of this body, and as such was ready to use any means to stop the spread of the Christian faith among his own people. His role as a zealot accounts for his role as a persecutor.
d. His persecution of the Church.
He consented to the death of Stephen (Acts 7:58).
He made havoc of the Church in Jerusalem (Acts 8:3).
He obtained letters from the high priest authorizing him to visit the synagogues in Damascus, arrest and bring to Jerusalem all who showed any disposition to believe in Jesus as the Christ. It was his intention to bring them before the council and have them condemned (Acts 9:12-14).
He imprisoned and beat in every synagogue those who believed (Acts 22:19).
He confessed to the Lord that he was guilty of the death of Stephen (Acts 22:20).
He voted for the death of those whom he brought before the council (Acts 26:10, 11).
He calls himself the persecutor of the Church (I Tim. 1:13; Phil. 3:6; Gal. 1:13).
2. SAUL ARRESTED
a. The light from Heaven.
It was not natural light. It was light above the brightness of the mid-day sun (Acts 22:6; 26:13).
It was the personal and essential glory of the Lord. He manifested some of this glory to His disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1, 2).
He manifested this glory in its fullness to John in Patmos (Rev. 1:12-16).
It was the manifestation to Paul of that glory He had with the Father before the world was (John 17:5).
b. The voice from Heaven.
It was the voice of our Lord Jesus Christ. The words He spoke were in Hebrew (Acts 26:14).
In Acts 9:7, it is said the men who were with Paul heard the voice.
In Acts 22:9, Paul declares they did not hear the voice.
There is no contradiction.
In Acts 9:7, the men heard the sound of the voice.
In Acts 22:9, Paul says they did not hear the voice speaking; that is to say, they heard the sound but did not hear the words. On one occasion when our Lord was praying the Father spoke to Him from Heaven. The people who stood by said it thundered. They heard the sound but did not distinguish the words (John 12:29).
The voice Paul heard was an arresting one.
He declares himself that he was “arrested” (Philippians 3:12). Literally, “I was laid hold of.”
c. The Lord’s disclosure of Himself.
“I am Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 22:8; 9:5).
As Jesus He ascended to Heaven (Acts 1:11).
Through the opened heavens
Stephen saw Him at the right hand of the Father as Jesus (Acts 7:55).
In the last message which He sends down from Heaven, He declares Himself as Jesus. He says:
“I am Jesus” (Revelation 22:16).
His name as Jesus has been exalted above every name in the universe (Philippians 2:10-11).
Jesus was the name given Him at His birth (Matthew 1:21).
Jesus therefore is His name as a man.
In identifying Himself in Heaven as Jesus of Nazareth, our Lord declares He is there, not as a spirit being, not as a ghost Christ, but as a real man, as well as true God.
He is there as the “Man Christ Jesus” (I Timothy 2:5).
In speaking to Paul in Hebrew He identified Himself with the nation of the Jews, and thus testifies that although rejected by them, He was still their covenant king. In Heaven as the once slain but now risen one, He is seen as the lion (that is - the king) of the tribe of Judah. Thus He is there as a Man, a Jew, and the king of the Jews (Revelation 5:5-6).
d. Our Lord’s identification of Himself with the Church.
“Why persecutest thou me?” (vs. 4, 5).
The Church is the spiritual body of Christ (I Cor. 12:27); Romans 12:5; Ephesians 1:23; Colossians 1:18, 24; I Corinthians 12:12). Literally, “so also is (the) Christ.”
The Church is here called “The
Christ” because the body takes the name of the Head.
Our Lord is the Head of the Church (Ephesians 4:15; Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 5:23).
The blow that smites the body is felt by the head, felt there even before the body is conscious of it...
Anything which hurts a member of Christ’s body hurts the body, and hurts Him who is the Head of the Body.
In persecuting the Church Paul was persecuting the Lord Himself. Every blow that fell upon the back of a Christian fell upon Him.
e. The folly of fighting against the Church.
“It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (v. 5; 26:14).
The word “pricks” is “goads.”
A farmer while plowing held a long rod in his right hand, at the end of the rod was a sharp point or goad. When the ox kicked back to drove the goad into itself, inflicting useless suffering. Just as the resistance of the ox was futile, so every effort to overthrow the Church of Christ will be without avail, and will only emphasize the judgment upon those who act against it.
f. Paul’s great question.
Paul’s first question was an inquiry concerning the personality of the Lord.
“Who art thou Lord?”
His second and great question was an inquiry as to the will of the Lord concerning himself.
“What wilt thou have me to do?”
We are not to do at all in order to be saved. All has been done for us.
It is law that says “do.” But grace says, “It is done.”
We are saved not by works which we have done or can do, but by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8, 9; Titus 3:5).
After we have been saved by virtue of the Lord’s gracious doing, then are we called upon to do. We have been redeemed as Christians that we might be a peculiar people, zealous of good works (Titus 2:14).
We have been created in Christ Jesus to that end (Ephesians 2:10; Titus 3:14).
As Christians we are called to surrender ourselves into the Lord’s hands as instruments of His use.
Like Paul we are to inquire of the Lord what He would have us to do.
Like Isaiah we are to offer ourselves fully to His service, and say with him:
“Here am I; send me” (Isaiah 6:8).
Paul’s conversion is itself a figure or symbol of the way in which the nation of the Jews is to be converted at last.
Paul was not converted by the preaching of the Gospel, but by the personal appearing of the Lord in glory.
Individual Jews here and there will believe the Gospel. They constitute the elect remnant in this age (Romans 11:5).
They form the true Israel of God (Galatians 6:16).
As a nation the Jews will never believe the Gospel. They are now enemies of the Gospel for the sake of the Gentiles (Romans 11:28). That is to say, the Jews not only crucified the Lord as their king; not only rejected Him as risen king when presented by Peter and Stephen, but rejected Him as the Son of God, as the Saviour of men. They refused the Gospel. The Gospel was then officially taken from them and given to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46).
Through their unbelief it has come to the Gentiles (Romans 11:30).
As a nation they will be saved even as Paul was saved - by the appearing of our Lord in glory (Romans 11:25; Zechariah 12:10).
Paul declares his conversion is a type of their conversion (I Timothy 1:16).
The word “pattern” signifies an outline, a sketch, a picture. Since he was converted by the personal appearing of the Lord in glory, and so converted in advance of the nation, he describes that conversion as of one born “out of due time” (I Corinthians 15:8). That is: “before the time.”
In the conversion of Paul therefore we read the manner and way in which the nation of the Jews will be brought to own the Lord both as Saviour and King.
It is when the Lord is revealed in His glory that they will take up the refrain of Isaiah 53:3-6. 3.
3. PAUL IN PRAYER.
a. The Lord knew the details of Paul’s daily life.
He knew the street in which he lived, the house in which he dwelt, the name of the owner of the house; He knew Paul was engaged in prayer. To Ananias He said:
“Behold, he prayeth.”
The Lord knows when His people pray and when they do not. All things are open to His gaze (Hebrews 4:13; Jeremiah 32:17). Literally, “There is nothing hid from thee.”
b. The Lord avouched him as a chosen vessel.
He was separated unto the Gospel (Romans 1:1).
Literally, “set apart,” chosen, dedicated to the Gospel (Galatians 1:15; Ephesians 3:7, 8; Romans 11:13; 15:15-16; Galalatians 2:7-8).
c. The character of Paul’s prayer.
He prayed to the Lord. He prayed to be delivered from his blindness. The glory of the Lord blinded him (Acts 22:11). For three days he was without sight (Acts 9:9).
The vision of Heaven shut out the vision of earth.
d. The Lord’s response to Paul’s prayer. He bade Ananias to go to him, lay his hands upon him, and he should receive his sight (Acts 22:13; 9:17).
Paul’s attitude of prayer was a witness that the divine life and spirit were now in him.
This attitude of prayer moved the Lord, and such attitude moves Him still.
Today as then He notes the bended knee and draws attention thereto, saying to the surrounding hosts of Heaven - “Behold, he or she, prayeth.”
4. PAUL TRANSFORMED.
a.  Scales fell from his eyes.
The scales were spiritual ignorance and unbelief (I Timothy 1:13).
b.  He was filled with the Holy Ghost.
He yielded himself to the Spirit.
c.  He was baptized.
By his baptism he confessed that Jesus Christ died, was buried and rose again, and was thus - the Son of God (Romans 1:4).
d.  Straightway he began to preach Christ.
He preached Him in the very synagogues where he had sought to persecute all who should believe. It was an amazing providence, a divine grace that arrested him on the road to Damascus, commissioned as he was by the subtility of the Devil to destroy the faith of Christ, and then led him into the synagogues which had trembled at his approach to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ. Damascus was the end of his career as a persecutor, and the beginning of his career as an apostle (Acts 9:19; 26:19, 20).
Preaching Christ in the synagogues now became his “custom” (Acts 17:1-3).
e.  Saul was transformed into Paul (Acts 13:9).
“Saul” signifies, “sepulchre,” “a destroyer.”
“Paul” means, “a worker.”
Thus was the destroyer changed into the builder.
The work the Lord set before him was clear and distinct. He was to bring the truth to the people, open their spiritually blind eyes, bring to them the knowledge of the forgiveness of sins and heirship in the kingdom of God through faith in a risen Lord (Acts 26:18).
He was not disobedient to the Heavenly vision (Acts 26:19).
Instead of putting men to death, he sought to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus (Colossians 1:28-29).
From henceforth he had but one theme - “Christ and him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2).
From henceforth he had but one objective in life - to live for Christ (Philippians 1:21).
1. Zeal without knowledge is activity without grace.
2. Spiritual ignorance is the father of religious persecution.
3. The Christ who was Jesus of Nazareth on earth, is Jesus of Nazareth in Heaven.
4. Christ is the Head - the Church the Body. Every blow on the Body is a blow felt by the Head.
5. To persecute a Christian is to persecute Christ.
6. We are saved without doing by the Lord, that when saved we may always be doing for the Lord.
7. The Lord in Heaven knows when His people are praying on earth.
8. Spiritual ignorance and unbelief are the Devil’s scales on the eyes of men.
9. By the grace of God every Saul may become a Paul - every destroyer may become a worker.
10. He who is called by the Lord will be transformed by the Lord.
(Sunday School Lesson as taught by I. M. Haldeman April 2, 1916, in the First Baptist Church, New York City, N.Y.)
[From Milburn Cockrell, editor, The Berea Baptist Banner, December 5, 1998, pp. 461, 467-468. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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