“Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened. Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damacus.”
There’s a contrast between the study of Philip in the previous chapter and that of Saul of Tarsus in this chapter. Saul was persecuting the church at this time; Philip was adding to the church through evangelism. The word “Saul” is a very fitting one for this man. He was like King Saul from the same tribe of Benjamin, a powerful, vigorous individual, a Jew by physical birth, a Roman citizen, and he had a great Greek education.
Philippians 3:4-6 describes Paul’s Jewish heritage. In this passage Paul says he was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, and the Tribe of Benjamin, a ‘Hebrew of the Hebrews.” Paul’s claim in Philippians is that he is a proper Jew – circumcised on the eighth day indicates that he comes from a family that is keeping the Jewish traditions despite living in Tarsus. Paul was not a Jew pretending to be a Greek, but rather a Jew who was well aware of his heritage as a child of Abraham. That Paul claims to be from the tribe of Benjamin is significant since not every Jew in the first century could claim to know they were from a particular tribe. Paul’s Jewish name “Saul” is taken from the first king of Israel, from the tribe of Benjamin, and Paul’s teacher in Jerusalem, Gamaliel, was also from the tribe of Benjamin. The phrase “Hebrew of the Hebrews” can be taken in several ways. This phrase may mean that Paul was born of true Jewish blood, that there is no Gentile in his linage. It is sometimes suggested that Paul is referring to his ability to speak and read Hebrew. Not all Jews spoke the language, especially in the home. (Pollhill, Paul and his Letters, 26). (Romans 11:1; Acts 6:1, 22:3-6, 26:4-5)
Saul’s whole life now was threatening and slaughter of Christians. Went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Saul, as the leader of this persecution, had heard that there are Christians 150 miles away in Damascus and he wanted to go up there hunting. Saul asked the high priest as a favor to himself; “letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this Way.” This is the way the Christians were first described. Christ was said to be the way, the truth, and the life; so when they accepted Christ as the way, they were said to be in the way/road. He wanted to go up and capture any of these people who had become Christians and bring them down to Jerusalem for trial.
As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. This light is described several times: verses 4, 7, 8. The light was literal but the Light was also the Lord Jesus Christ who spoke to Saul of Tarsus. In verse 8 it was a blinding light. It was so bright that it blinded Saul temporarily, and he was helpless in his blindness. It was an arresting light, according to verse 7. The entire party was halted and no one moved while Jesus Christ spoke personally with Saul. It was an awesome light. The entire party was speechless—no rebuttal, no one had anything to say. It was a powerful light in verse 4. It knocked Saul down. Also in verse 4, it was a revealing light. Jesus Christ revealed Himself to Saul at this point.
He didn’t hear any voice until he was flat on his back. Heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” This was a very unusual statement, for this reason: Saul knew immediately, because he has been knocked down, that the Person speaking to him was God. I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. He used the word “Jesus” because this is the title for the humanity of Christ. Saul hadn’t persecuted Christ personally, but he had been persecuting believers, and since these believers were in union with Christ he was actually persecuting Christ. So here was the first introduction to the doctrine of positional truth.
Paul trusted in Christ while he was flat on his back and is saved now. The first thing he is going to have to do now is wait. Jesus Christ dealt with Saul only; He did not deal with the men of “his army.” He was now completely helpless. He had been blinded temporarily and instructed to go into the city, and to sit down and wait. There is a principle here. God doesn’t need human ability and success to get the job done. No novice should be shoved up in front of others as a testimony, and this ruins many people. Jesus Himself dealt with Saul of Tarsus, and now Saul was to wait. The first thing you do as a Christian is to do nothing. You need to get some doctrine and to grow before anything else just as Saul did.
“Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.” A “certain disciple” means one who is prepared to do anything for the Lord. The reason he was prepared was because he knew the Word of God. His name is a Hebrew word which means “protected by the Lord.”
The obscure and wonderful service that Ananias rendered for Paul had world-wide repercussions. To the believer who experiences disappointment and frustration because his life is filled with monotony and he reads a wonderful missionary biography, or hears about some glamorous testimony, and makes a comparison, is disappointed unless he understands Bible doctrine. Bible doctrine causes Mr. Ordinary Believer to orient to his importance in the Angelic Conflict. There is something extraordinary about the ordinary life which is faithful, learning doctrine, and orienting to grace. This is the most unusual life of all and the one that requires the most dedication. In God’s power system there is no such thing as an ordinary life, even though every life is composed of numerous monotonous details.
Ananias demonstrated the importance of faithfulness in the little things: the importance of orientation to grace, the importance of the ordinary believer knowing a lot of doctrine. When Jesus wanted Saul of Tarsus off to a good start He didn’t send him to a preacher in Jerusalem. I t would have ruined Saul to be sent to Jerusalem. In fact, Saul had to leave Jerusalem before God the Son would even deal with him. The worst place to get saved from about a year after Pentecost was Jerusalem, because there they would learn legalism from some apostles who were still struggling with grace orientation.
“And the Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.”
Judas, apparently, is a VIP in Judaism, a well-known individual. Saul is saved now, but he doesn’t have enough doctrine to go anywhere, so he’s praying. There is a key in Acts 22:12 where there are two things said about Ananias which are not said here: “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there.” He is said to be devout according to the norm or standard of the law. The word “law” actually means the Old Testament Scriptures. Ananias is a believer but he has been studying what Scripture existed at that time: the Old Testament. He also had a good report of all the Jews who lived there, so his life was a sermon. As a result of knowing Bible doctrine and being oriented to the grace of God he was well prepared to meet the problem of Saul of Tarsus. Saul is now waiting. Physically and spiritually he was blind and was now waiting on the Lord – faith-rest.
There are two kinds of blindness here. The words “might regain” is an aorist tense, an active voice, but a subjunctive mood. The key is the subjunctive mood, which is potential. Obviously Saul is going to receive his physical sight, but it is his spiritual sight that is so important. The aorist tense has two concepts: an occurrence which can be a point of time or an occurrence in eternity, and it can gather up into a single whole a process. In receiving spiritual sight Saul was going to have a number of sessions with Ananias who was going to teach, teach, teach. The active voice means that Saul’s volition must be involved. You have to want the Word of God to get the Word of God. There is no easy way to get it. It requires concentration and learning, setting aside the things that you might ordinarily enjoy, and a lot of sacrifice. Saul was going to receive his physical sight by being touched, so there was no active voice in receiving his physical sight. The active voice indicates that Saul of Tarsus was involved in the spiritual sight. Whenever a person learns doctrine he does so because he wants to learn doctrine.
Verse 13 “But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” This was Ananias’ human viewpoint of the situation. “But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” This was God’s divine viewpoint of the situation.
Here Ananias gets some information that will not be realized by other believers for ten or fifteen years: that Saul of Tarsus will have the major project of carrying biblical information to all kinds of people in the Roman Empire. And when you cover these particular categories—Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel—you have the primary constituents for the beginning of Christianity. There is a conjunction of contrast here between Saul of Tarsus as an unbeliever and the believer, Paul, who was now mentioned. All of the time that Saul of Tarsus was the worst unbeliever who ever lived, God knew what he was going to be like in the future. We can understand, therefore, that God would have long suffering toward Saul, knowing some of the great decisions, knowing his great thirst for doctrine, knowing how he would live by doctrine, and knowing what a tremendous dynamic impact his life would have on the human race.
“He is a chosen instrument of Mine.” The word “chosen” indicates the plan of God because it stands for the principle of election, which has to do with Christian service. The word “vessel” has to do with the concept of service as well and there is a principle involved here. Vessels in the ancient world were used for service according to Romans 9:21-23; II Corinthians 4:7; I Timothy 2:21. With Saul of Tarsus doctrine became his life, and everything else in life was simply a detail. “To bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel.” The Greek word bear is “bastazo” and means to carry a message, to carry a principle, to carry something that is important. There are three phrases to describe the Roman world in which Saul/Paul would operate: “before Gentiles”—the Romans and those whom they had conquered; “and kings”—the VIPs of the Roman empire; “and the children of Israel”—always there is the emphasis on the message to Israel, they have a right to the gospel as much as anyone else.
Before Saul of Tarsus ever took one step into the ministry which the Lord had for him he knew ahead of time that he would suffer as few people in the human race have suffered. God used Ananias, and later on others, in Paul’s preparation. But the thing that he knew right from the start was how much he was going to have to suffer. Some of the greatest blessings in life come through suffering. Even though Paul would have maximum suffering conditions throughout his life as a believer he would also have maximum blessing in those sufferings. The link between happiness and suffering is Bible doctrine.
Ananias ministered to a new believer on the principle of grace, he does not mention Saul’s past or hold Saul’s past against him. He doesn’t ask Saul to come out and give his testimony, i.e. put him on the spot and put him to work. There is no hint of legalism here and the approach is very simple. He communicates Bible doctrine. Physical sight wasn’t as important as spiritual sight. Taking scales off of his eyes, as it were, giving him physical sight back is inconsequential; it is the spiritual site that counts. He does receive the restoration of his physical sight but the word which is used here indicates that it was much more than the restoration of his physical sight. It is his spiritual insight that counts. Then spiritually he was to receive the filling of the Spirit. This was contrary to the procedure which occurs today. We receive the filling of the Spirit at the same that we receive the indwelling of the Spirit in the post-canon period of the Church Age. This reminds us of the principle of teamwork. Behind the greatest of believers are the ministries of ordinary believers.
Ananias was faithful in teaching one man but the dividends were fantastic. The ordinary Christian only becomes bored when he is a slave to circumstances when circumstances are magnified. But if he learns doctrine and possesses inner happiness then circumstances can never enslave him or bore him. Like Ananias, the believer must be ready for team contribution. Monotony becomes inner happiness and difficulties are transformed into opportunities when Bible doctrine is first. Serving Christ is just the result. Under the principle of grace everything in the Christian life depends on Who and what God is, never who and what we are as believers.