We are in the midst of the conversion of Saul, destined by God to become Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles! Let’s pick up the story at Acts 9:7-9…
Saul has been struck down by a great light, and has experienced a face-to-face encounter with the risen Lord Jesus Christ, who has instructed him to proceed into the city of Damascus, where he will be told what the Lord expects him to do. Luke matter-of-factly records that those who were travelling with him were completely amazed, hearing the voice but not seeing Christ. (By this verse we know that Saul was not travelling alone.) We assume the intense light had faded, for Saul got up from the ground. His companions realized he was blind, even though his eyelids were open. They led him “by the hand” the rest of the way into the city. He remained there for three days with no improvement in his condition, and during that time he neither ate nor drank anything.
In v10 Luke tells us of a believer in Damascus, a “disciple” named Ananias. (Obviously not the same Ananias from Chapter 5.) We are not told how he came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ or how he came to be in Damascus. More of God’s precise stage-setting, no doubt! In much the same way that God had called to the boy Samuel, the Lord now calls to Ananias in a vision. And Ananias, like Samuel, responds, “Here am I, Lord.”
We must admire Ananias for his sensitivity to the calling of God, respect the fact that God thought highly enough of him to choose him for this important task, and admire him for his apparent willingness and availability toward God. However, when he finds out what the Lord has in mind, he responds in entirely human fashion!
The Lord’s instructions are very specific. He tells Ananias the street, the house, the name of a visitor there, and where the visitor is from (just in case there might be two Sauls there). He tells Ananias that he is being sent because this man is praying. Why is he praying? In his prayers he has had a vision of a man named Ananias coming to him and touching him to heal his blindness. Consider how marvelous the Lord’s information is — Ananias knows Saul by name, Saul knows Ananias by name, and each knows why they will meet!
But Ananias knows Saul by more than the name given him by the Lord. He really loses his cool! How many times, when we are asked to do something by the Lord that seems unreasonable to us, do we assume an attitude of, “Lord! Don’t you know about this situation?” That seems like a strange thing to say to One who is omniscient, and it reveals a certain foolish tendency on the part of humans in their relationship with God to seek role reversal, at least momentarily.
In vv15-16 the Lord patiently insists (just as He did with Moses at the burning bush), and even explains his reasons to Ananias. God is under no obligation to explain His reasons to us! But He does so for Ananias, and believers throughout the ages should be very grateful — for in doing so, we have a specific record of God’s purpose in appointing Saul as an apostle. It is not a repetition of the Great Commission, but it is a commission. If we, as Gentiles, should adopt any commission as our own, this is it! If we call Christ’s instructions to the apostles to Israel “Great”, surely we should refer to this as the “Greater Commission,” for it represents God’s way of bringing us into His family in spite of Israel’s unbelief.
Note also the order of what the Lord describes to Ananias. Saul will bear His name before (1) the Gentiles, (2) kings, and (3) the sons of Israel. What was the order of the Great Commission? (1) Jerusalem, (2) Judea and Samaria, and (3) the whole earth. Saul’s commission is the geographic reverse of the commission given to the Twelve! And indeed, Paul followed his commission. He did not go to Jerusalem and work outward from there. In fact, he had already completed his first missionary journey before he ever went back to Jerusalem.
Interestingly, in v16 the Lord also tells Ananias that He (Christ) will show Saul how much trouble he (Saul) will experience because of his commission as an apostle. Did you realize that Paul probably knew the troubles he lists in II Corinthians 11:24-28 in advance? That he knew he would be stoned and survive unhurt — in advance? That he knew of his imprisonment in advance? That he knew of his beheading in Rome in advance? Why would any man submit to such a future? I believe it was because Christ also revealed to him a much greater glory that made such sufferings pale by comparison — a glory that is our “inheritance in the saints.” (Colossians 1:9-24)
In the remaining verses (17-19) Luke faithfully records Ananias’ obedience. There is an additonal action taken by Ananias, the conferring of the Holy Spirit upon Saul. Immediately upon receiving the Holy Spirit, Luke tells us that something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes and his vision was restored. Saul arose, and then was baptized. Only then did he eat, and he began regaining his strength. Luke does not say anywhere that Saul “believed”, but the story speaks for itself. Surely no man after Saul has ever been more convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God!
Make note of the order of events for future reference — (1) belief, (2) receiving the Holy Spirit, and (3) baptism. This begins to look more like the order we are used to! The Greek word for “filled” is the same we have noted before — playsthays, meaning to come under the full influence of the Holy Spirit. Was Paul indwelt by the Holy Spirit as we are at this point? Only the Spirit knows, for what Luke describes is that Saul received the Holy Spirit as others had, by the laying on of hands as a separate event following belief. But I suspect that Saul was also indwelt at that point, although it would require time for him to be able to elucidate that in his ministry and his letters to the churches. (Remember, indwelling is a word and a concept that is unique to Paul’s epistles.) For the sake of the other apostles, whose program was just beginning to wane, Saul’s receiving of the Holy Spirit was identical to that of any other believer at that time.
In the next post we’ll compare the passage we have just studied to additional accounts of the same events, and will pick up more interesting details!