Saul, who becomes the Apostle Paul, is first introduced to us as a persecutor of Christians (Acts 9:1). He is fighting a holy war to uproot heresy in Judaism. However, he does not desire to punish Believers because they are “good Christians” but because he feels they are “bad Jews.” Saul incarcerates Jerusalem Believers and hunts others who flee for safety outside of Palestine (Acts 8:1). He goes to the High Priest in Jerusalem, receives letters of authorization, and is commissioned to subjugate both male and female Christians (Acts 9:1-2; 22:5; 26:12). After receiving this appointment, his first stop is Damascus. In order to get there, travelers take the ancient caravan route of 136 miles heading northeast from Jerusalem. It is not only a major city in its day, but one of the oldest in the world. Its history is tied to Old Testament personalities. Lot is rescued from Hobah, near Damascus. David places garrisons there. Ezekiel mentions its mercantile greatness. Elisha, Amos, and Isaiah are all affiliated with Damascus.
The city is adorned with lavish gardens and fresh streams run throughout it. However, such beauty would not have refreshed the tortured soul of Saul. With hateful search warrants clenched in his fist he begins his quest. He is not only breathing threats but thoughts of slaughter as well (Acts 9:1). To believe a carpenter from Galilee is the Messiah is certainly heresy. Although Saul is motivated, antagonistic, and determined, he is on a mission doomed to failure. When anyone attempts to stamp out Pentecostal fire he simply scatters the flame. Throughout the centuries, opposition has always served to strengthen the Church.
Suddenly, Saul is blinded at midday by a heavenly light brighter than the sun (Acts 26:13). He does not stop the Church. The Head of the Church stops him. Had Saul not surrendered to Christ that day, he might have died a blind man. Interestingly, he is in the dark for three days, the same amount of time Christ is in the tomb. The scene quickly changes to one of mass confusion, bewilderment, and fear (9:7). Jesus speaks clearly and personally to Saul in the Hebrew language (26:14). Realizing he is in the presence of a deity, he asks, “Who are you, Lord?” No doubt the last thing he expects to hear is the reply, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (9:5). Whenever anyone hurts God’s people, He shares their pain. When Saul holds the coats of those stoning Stephen, Jesus feels the impact of every rock that hits him, for they are throwing them at Him. If the body is injured, the head also suffers. “Inasmuch as you have done it to my brethren, you have done it to me” (Mt. 25:40).
Only a Damascus road experience will change a man like Saul. Instantly this Pharisee is transformed into an apostle. His calling into the ministry is immediate and absolute. Nothing after this event ever sways him from his purpose. In his own words, “I was apprehended of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:12). When Saul meets Jesus, he begins to find the answers he so desperately seeks. Until this moment Saul and Jesus have nothing in common, but after it they have everything in common. “For me, to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). Saul’s encounter with the risen Jesus is more than sufficient proof of His Messiahship. The voice of Jesus corrects his twisted theology and redirects his zealousness.
The Lord tells Saul it is hard to “kick against the goads” (Acts 9:5), a proverbial expression meaning to “offer vain resistance.” Goading or prodding an ox along with a sharp stick is painful for the animal, but often necessary. The owner is compelled to use the goad until it obeys and moves in the desired direction. By kicking against it, he only hurts himself. This perfectly portrays Saul’s spiritual condition at that time. In a vain effort to alleviate the pangs of his conscience, he is unknowingly opposing God.
The Lord had previously warned His disciples that “whoever kills them will feel they are doing God a favor” (John 16:2). Prior to this pivotal moment, Saul is ready to see Christians die, but when the scales fall from his eyes he is ready to die for them (Acts 9:18). After his dramatic conversion, Saul lives to help establish the faith he once sought to destroy (Gal. 1:23).
Saul changes his mission, but he is not the first to do so. Peter the fisherman becomes a fisher of men (Lk. 5:10). Matthew switches from collecting taxes to collecting souls (Matt. 10:3). Saul is transformed from a persecutor of men to a persuader of men (II Cor. 5:11). Paul is eager to testify of his radical conversion, sharing it with unbelieving Jews (Acts 22), Sadducees and Pharisees (Acts 23), Felix (Acts 24), Festus (Acts 25), and King Agrippa (Acts 26).
The Damascus Road saga proves the power of the Gospel can overcome the strongest presuppositions. A similar transformation is available to everyone on earth. Paul and millions of Believers worldwide verify that when a person dynamically encounters Jesus Christ “old things pass away and all things become new” (II Cor. 5:17).