Saul of Tarsus From Oppressor to Disciple

This Saul of Tarsus story is based on Acts 9:1-18 and tells how Saul who was an oppressor because he took part in the trial and conviction of Stephen but after seeing the Light became a Disciple.

Saul Of Tarsus Vatican StPaul Statue
Saul Of Tarsus Vatican StPaul Statue

The story of Saul Of Tarsus

Prominent among the Jewish leaders who became thoroughly aroused by the success attending the proclamation of the gospel was Saul of Tarsus. A Roman citizen by birth, Saul was nevertheless a Jew by descent and had been educated in Jerusalem by the most eminent of the rabbis.

“Of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin,”

Saul was “a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” Philippians 3:5, Philippians 3:6.

He was regarded by the rabbis as a young man of great promise, and high hopes were cherished concerning him as an able and zealous defender of the ancient faith. His elevation to membership in the Sanhedrin council placed him in a position of power.

The Oppressor

Saul had taken a prominent part in the trial and conviction of Stephen, and the striking evidence of God’s presence with the martyr had led Saul to doubt the righteousness of the cause he had espoused against the followers of Jesus.

His mind was deeply stirred. In his perplexity, he appealed to those in whose wisdom and judgment he had full confidence. The arguments of the priests and rulers finally convinced him that Stephen was a blasphemer, that the Christ whom the martyred disciple had preached was an impostor, and that those ministering in holy office must be right.

Not without severe trial did Saul come to this conclusion. But in the end, his education and prejudices, his respect for his former teachers, and his pride of popularity braced him to rebel against the voice of conscience and the grace of God.

And having fully decided that the priests and scribes were right, Saul became very bitter in his opposition to the doctrines taught by the disciples of Jesus.

The Church of Jerusalem
The Church of Jerusalem

His activity in causing holy men and women to be dragged before tribunals, where some were condemned to imprisonment and some even to death, solely because of their faith in Jesus, brought sadness and gloom to the newly organized church and caused many to seek safety in flight.

Those who were driven from Jerusalem by this persecution “went everywhere preaching the word.” Acts 8:4. Among the cities to which they went was Damascus, where the new faith gained many converts.

The priests and rulers had hoped that by vigilant effort and stern persecution the heresy might be suppressed. Now they felt that they must carry forward in other places the decided measures taken in Jerusalem against the new teaching.

Conversion of Saint Paul (Gozzoli)
Conversion of Saint Paul (Gozzoli)

Saul on his way to Damascus

For the special work that they desired to have done at Damascus, Saul offered his services. Breathing out threatening’s and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, he went unto the high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.

Thus with authority and commission from the chief priests (Acts 26:12), Saul of Tarsus, in the strength and vigour of manhood, and fired with mistaken zeal, set out on that memorable journey, the strange occurrences of which were to change the whole current of his life.

On the last day of the journey, “at midday,” as the weary travellers neared Damascus, they came within full view of broad stretches of fertile lands, beautiful gardens, and fruitful orchards, watered by cool streams from the surrounding mountains.

After the long journey over desolate wastes, such scenes were refreshing indeed. While Saul, with his companions, gazed with admiration on the fruitful plain and the fair city below, “suddenly,” as he afterwards declared, there shone “round about me and them which journeyed with me” “a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun” (Acts 26:13), too glorious for mortal eyes to bear. Blinded and bewildered, Saul fell prostrate to the ground.

While the light continued to shine round about them, Saul heard, “a voice speaking … in the Hebrew tongue (Acts 26:14), saying unto him,

Cristo crucificado
Cristo crucificado

“Saul, Saul, why persecute thou Me? And he said, Who art Thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecute: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”

Filled with fear, and almost blinded by the intensity of the light, the companions of Saul heard a voice but saw no man. But Saul understood the words that were spoken, and to him was clearly revealed the One who spoke—even the Son of God.

In the glorious Being who stood before him, he saw the Crucified One. Upon the soul of the stricken Jew, the image of the Saviour’s countenance was imprinted forever. The words spoken struck home to his heart with appalling force. Into the darkened chambers of his mind, there poured a flood of light, revealing the ignorance and error of his former life and his present need of the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.

Saul sees the Light

Saul now saw that in persecuting the followers of Jesus he had in reality been doing the work of Satan. He saw that his convictions of right and his own duty had been based largely on his implicit confidence in the priests and rulers.

He had believed them when they told him that the story of the resurrection was an artful fabrication of the disciples. Now that Jesus Himself stood revealed, Saul was convinced of the truthfulness of the claims made by the disciples.

In that hour of heavenly illumination, Saul’s mind acted with remarkable rapidity. The prophetic records of Holy Writ were opened to his understanding. He saw that the rejection of Jesus by the Jews, His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, had been foretold by the prophets and proved Him to be the promised Messiah.

Stephen’s sermon at the time of his martyrdom was brought forcibly to Saul’s mind, and he realized that the martyr had indeed beheld “the glory of God” when he said,

“Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” Acts 7:55, Acts 7:56.

The priests had pronounced these words blasphemy, but Saul now knew them to be the truth.

What a revelation was all this to the persecutor! Now Saul knew for a certainty that the promised Messiah had come to this earth as Jesus of Nazareth and that He had been rejected and crucified by those whom He came to save.

He knew also that the Saviour had risen in triumph from the tomb and had ascended into the heavens. In that moment of divine revelation Saul remembered with terror that Stephen, who had borne witness of a crucified and risen Saviour, had been sacrificed by his consent, and that later, through his instrumentality, many other worthy followers of Jesus had met their death by cruel persecution.

The Saviour had spoken to Saul through Stephen, whose clear reasoning could not be controverted. The learned Jew had seen the face of the martyr reflecting the light of Christ’s glory—appearing as if “it had been the face of an angel.” Acts 6:15.

He had witnessed Stephen’s forbearance toward his enemies and his forgiveness of them. He had also witnessed the fortitude and cheerful resignation of many whom he had caused to be tormented and afflicted. He had seen some yield up even their lives with rejoicing for the sake of their faith.

All these things had appealed loudly to Saul and at times had thrust upon his mind an almost overwhelming conviction that Jesus was the promised Messiah. At such times he had struggled for entire nights against this conviction, and always he had ended the matter by avowing his belief that Jesus was not the Messiah and that His followers were deluded fanatics.

Now Christ had spoken to Saul with His own voice, saying,

“Saul, Saul, why persecutes thou Me?”

And the question,

“Who art Thou, Lord?”

was answered by the same voice,

“I am Jesus whom thou persecute.”

Christ here identifies Himself with His people. In persecuting the followers of Jesus, Saul had struck directly against the Lord of heaven. In falsely accusing and testifying against them, he had falsely accused and testified against the Saviour of the world.

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