“Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you.” And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet; and he said, ‘I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.”
In Acts 21:39, Paul asked permission from the commander, who had rescued him from the mob, to speak to the mob. Acts 21:40 says, “When he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the stairs, motioned to the people with his hand; and when there was a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect, saying.” Paul was going to attempt to justify himself and his message to this riotous crowd by giving his personal testimony of his experience of salvation. It was an opportunity to present the Gospel to this crowd of Jews, but had no effect on them. Paul was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Brethren does not refer to believers but to members of the Jewish race. Paul is trying to establish some rapport with the crowd. He uses the word fathers to recognize that in the mob there were Jewish religious leaders. The fact of religious leaders in the mob tells us that they were leading the mob. Whenever you have a breakdown of law and order you always have religion either encouraging the mob or leading the mob. This means by principle that religion often sponsors and fosters mob action. But civil disobedience is anti-Christian. Such action destroys any doctrinal issues.
Paul was now going to try to defend his actions and his message, which would not work with this crowd. He does face this angry mob with great courage and confidence but would not be able to convince them of the truth of the Gospel. Remember that Paul is out of the geographic will of God. He should never have been in this situation in the first place. The only reason he was allowed to speak was that he spoke in the Hebrew dialect, probably Aramaic. At least Paul was able to share the Gospel with them but had no success as far as we are told.
The fact that he was born in Tarsus meant that he was a Roman citizen. Paul was actually saying that he was brought up from his childhood in Jerusalem under the system of Judaism. He was taught the Mosaic Law from Gamaliel, a Jewish scholar. Paul was zealous for the Law which meant that he was zealous toward God as he understood God from his study of the Old Testament. But being an unbeliever he had no clear understanding of the Scriptures. His education was in the distorted interpretation of the Mosaic Law, Jewish traditions and customs. Judaism was his life, and therefore Paul’s reasoning was that any deviation in his life from Judaism was something they should at least consider in order to see if there might be a legitimate reason for the change.
Believers were afraid and skeptical of Paul after his conversion on the road to Damascus. They remembered Paul as the greatest persecutor of the Church. The Council of the elders was the supreme court of the Jews. Remember that the Romans allowed the Jews to rule themselves to a certain degree. Saul had been so zealous that after he rounded up the Christians in Jerusalem he wanted to go up to Damascus and do it because he heard there were Christians there. The law of the Jews at this time was confined to Judea but Saul went 300 miles out of his jurisdiction toward Damascus to find Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem to kill them or put them in jail.
“But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’” The bright light was actually the Lord Jesus Christ. In a sense it was similar to the burning bush of Exodus 3. The light was the manifestation of Jesus Christ apart from His actual physical bodily form. There have been throughout the history of the human race certain inanimate manifestations of Christ. Christ was the cloud that led the nation of Israel, He was the pillar of fire that protected them, He was the burning bush, and in this case He was the actual light Himself.
The reason that Jesus Christ at this point revealed Himself to Saul, who at that time was an unbeliever, was that at the point of God-consciousness Saul became positive toward God. God-consciousness meant that he was only aware of the existence of God and positive volition meant that he desired to know God. Because of this God was responsible to provide Gospel information. At the point of Gospel-hearing he would become positive and personally believe in Jesus Christ and become Paul the apostle. But between the two something happened to him. First of all, he had legalistic parents who were steeped in Judaism; so much so that his whole educational background was in the area of legalism. So he had a strong religious training, first of all from legalistic parents and then from the school where he was taught by Gamaliel. Between God-consciousness and Gospel- hearing Saul became very religious and very legalistic. That was his training and background. But he carried it further than most people do, to the point where he wanted to destroy everything that was anti-Judaism, everything that was opposed to the legalism of Israel. Therefore he began a system of persecution which resulted in people being killed and imprisoned. How could a person be positive at the point of God-consciousness and then turn so radically in another direction? The answer is legalistic training. Jesus Christ personally dealt with the apostle Paul, who was called Saul of Tarsus at the time he met Christ. He was a hardened unbeliever doing everything he could to destroy Christianity.
Twice Saul used the word “kurios,” a title for deity. He thought that he was doing what God wanted him to do; he thought that the God of Israel who he had been taught erroneously about was pleased with the things that he was doing with regard to the destruction of Christianity. Now he got his big shock. He used the word “Lord” because he knew that only God could knock him to the ground in this way, and that only God could speak to him in this way. Jesus Christ identifies Himself so that Saul can become Paul: “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutes.” In other words, every time he touched a believer he was touching Jesus Christ (positional truth: every believer in union with the Lord Jesus Christ). This was the first time that Saul understood any truth. He became aware of the fact that Jesus Christ is God. This was when he accepted Christ as his Savior.
Jesus Christ dealt only with Saul of Tarsus among the group traveling with him. There could be several reasons for that. The one obvious one was that he appeared to Saul because he needed a dramatic wakeup call and God had great plans for him. Saul of Tarsus was possibly the only person who had positive volition at the point of God-consciousness. The others were apparently negative at the point of God-consciousness so God did not reveal Himself to them.
“And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ “And the Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.’ But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me and came into Damascus.” Immediately Saul wanted to do for the Lord what he had done against the Lord during these early years. And his first question, “What shall I do?” The first thing to do after you are saved is to begin to learn the Word of God and store Bible doctrine in your soul. A new believer is in no position to do anything productive for God until he understands basic doctrine. Running around and being a religious nut simply turns people off to the Lord and the message of the Gospel. We see this exact principle with regard to Paul.
The first thing that the Lord Jesus Christ instructed Paul to do was to find the person God had appointed to teach him some doctrine. Paul had to find out what the Christian life was all about before he could do anything. God had a plan for Saul of Tarsus. Saul had now accepted Christ as Savior and needed some sound instruction. Jesus said He had something for Paul to do; He had a plan for Paul. You have to know the plan before you can execute it; knowledge comes before production. This was the principle by which Paul would become one of the greatest believers of all time. He would learn and then he would do.
“A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well-spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him. As far as we know, Ananias was an ordinary believer to whom God gave an extraordinary task. Obviously from the text, Ananias knew the Law of Moses, but he also had to understand the true meaning of it in order to instruct Saul properly.
Sometimes the ordinary life of an ordinary believer has occupational hazards such as boredom, which comes from a failure to orient to the grace of God and to the plan of God. Boredom can be the result of where something is more important than Bible doctrine, when a believer is not occupied with Christ. Entertainment can become an occupational hazard when Bible doctrine is not first in the life. Apostate teaching is a hazard and can be something as subtle as “We don’t need doctrine; all we need to do is to win people to Christ.” The ordinary life can be the most difficult because it has the fewest outward stimulants. So it requires a deeper and steadier faith. Therefore God has designed the ordinary life to be the recipient of Bible teaching, Bible doctrine. The ordinary life becomes the extraordinary life through knowledge and application of Bible doctrine. People often have a tendency to underrate the so-called commonplace, but the commonplace is not common if one is habitually learning and applying doctrine.
The obscure and wonderful service which Paul received from Ananias had world-wide repercussions. Ananias could not immediately see this; his job was to obey God. The ordinary life does not ordinarily see the final results of their faithfulness. Ananias was faithful in a ministry; he had no idea that Paul was going to be one of the greatest believers of all time. His job required faithfulness, as does ours. To the believers who experience disappointment and frustration because their lives are not filled with great spiritual adventures, Ananias is the pattern of what serving God is all about. Ananias was an ordinary believer or was he? Under grace there is no such thing as an ordinary life, even though every life is composed of a certain number of monotonous details which are commonplace. Ananias demonstrated the importance of faithfulness in the little things, leading to a moment of glory (his contact with Saul of Tarsus) which is so important in the teamwork concept. Ananias is a perfect example of an invisible hero!
God knew in eternity past that Paul from his own free will as Saul of Tarsus would receive Christ as savior. He saw his positive volition at the point of God-consciousness. Saul did not respond when Stephen proclaimed these things but he did when Jesus Christ proclaimed this personally on the Damascus road. Ananias himself was obviously oriented to the plan of God and he was prepared for the day when he would have the stability, the courage, the power and the grace to face the man who had persecuted the church and to declare to him Bible doctrine.
“And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth.” Some things can be learned only by study, so you have to study and learn doctrine. The whole objective is to know His will. You learn the will of God by learning doctrine. The will of God does not exist outside of Bible doctrine. Knowledge of doctrine, then, is the basis for knowing the will of God. Every believer must learn doctrine to know the will of God. Once you learn doctrine you begin to enter into occupation with Christ. The Greek word for see is “horao,” which means a panoramic view. It is the word from which we get “horizon.” So Saul of Tarsus was going to have a panoramic view of the Righteous One, Jesus Christ Who will later teach him personally a maximum amount of doctrine in the Arabian Desert.
“For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” Seen is the Greek word “horao” again, which means “a panoramic view.” So Paul is going to have a complete understanding of the mystery doctrine of the Church Age. He now knows that the One he had heard and studied about for many years was the promised Messiah and he will be thoroughly taught by Him in the Arabian Desert shortly.
The action of the aorist participle should always precede the action of the main verb in Greek. Therefore, we have a poor translation. The aorist active participle is “calling on His name,” which is a synonym for believing in Christ, as per Romans 10:13. Therefore, “calling on His name” had to come before “and wash away your sins.” When Paul called upon the name of the Lord at that moment his sins were washed away (by faith in Christ not by water baptism). A more accurate translation would be, “Having called upon the name of the Lord, and having your sins washed away, why are you delaying? Get up and be baptized.” Paul’s water baptism demonstrated positional sanctification. So being baptized was going to be the launching of Paul’s public ministry, just as with Jesus Christ being baptized was announcing His public ministry.