3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” 6 So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. 8 Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
In verses 3 and following, Saul encountered the risen Christ.
As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven.
Saul was on a journey to extradite Christians from Damascus. Suddenly the risen Lord Jesus shone a non-material light on Saul. This light was brighter than the sun (Acts 26:13). The “light” here is a Christophany, a physical manifestation of God’s glory in human form.
Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him,
The sudden appearance of the light caused Saul to fall to the ground. Saul saw the risen Jesus and heard His voice (Ac 9:17, 27).
“Saul, Saul [Aramaic name], why are you persecuting Me?”
Jesus called Saul by his name twice to query why he persecuted Him. To persecute the church is to persecute Jesus. There is a tight union of Christ with His church. The persecution of the church is persecution against Christ.
And he [Saul] said, “Who are You, Lord?”
Saul did not recognize the person talking to him. The word “Lord” can mean either sir or Lord. Since Saul’s experience was supernatural, he probably meant Lord here. It is clear from other Scriptures that he became a believer somewhere from this point forward.
Then the Lord said,
Saul was not prepared for what he was about to hear.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
Jesus identified Himself as the voice talking to Saul, as a historical person. Luke’s use of “Jesus” focused on His resurrected humanity. These words were a complete repudiation of Saul’s life and career. The Jesus Saul believed to be dead was alive, resurrected from the dead.
It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
We do not find this phrase in some manuscripts, but we discover it again later in Acts 26:14. Kicking against the goads is a metaphor for the goad of the ox cart driver driven deeper by the ox kicking against it. It probably refers to Saul’s deep hostility to Jesus and His church, and to his spiritual blindness. His opposition to Christ and attempt to destroy the church was sure to fail. His entire, misguided religious career was a mistake. Yet God goaded him to get his attention. He became a man under conviction. He attempted to stifle his conscience by the persecution of Christians.
So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”
Saul identified the resurrected Christ as God, Jehovah Himself. The Lord gave Saul the message of justification by faith directly by His own words (Acts 26:18; Ga 1:11-12).
Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
By a dramatic change of mind, Saul submitted to the risen Christ and asked about what he should do now, having become a believer.
The Lord instructed Saul to continue his journey to Damascus, where he would receive further instructions. Following Saul’s conversion, he obtained a commission from the Savior. Saul the persecutor would become Paul the Apostle. His personally seeing the resurrected Christ qualified him to be an apostle (1 Co 9:1).
And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one.
Saul’s traveling companions did not know what to make of what happened to him because they heard the sound of a voice but did not understand the voice (Acts 22:9). In Acts 9:7, they heard a sound (genitive case), but in Acts 22:9 they heard with understanding (accusative case). Saul’s friends heard the voice but did not understand Christ’s message to Saul.
Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one.
Saul discovered that he was physically blind.
But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.
Saul’s fellow travelers took him by the hand and led him to Damascus.
And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Saul was without sight for three days. He went on a three-day fast.
God is in the business of transforming people.
God sometimes displays His grace in unusual acts. Saul, the persecutor of the church, became Paul, the apostle of the church to the Gentiles (Ga 1:16). Saul was a relentless persecutor of the church; for him to become a Christian and an apostle shows the transformation that believing in Christ has. His conversion was something that Christ did directly. The certainty of a resurrected Christ propelled his conversion.
Saul reached a point of deep anguish and self-condemnation. Yet he came to grips with God’s grace that forgave his sins against Christ and the church. This man moved from his lost state to the glorious realization of God’s love for him. That grace went to such an extent for this miserable sinner that God made him the most successful apostle of them all.