Saul of Tarsus, who later became known as the Apostle Paul, started out as a vicious enemy of the church that was located in Jerusalem. When Stephen was martyred for his candid preaching of the gospel, it says in Acts 7:58 that those who stoned him “laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.” Saul was thought of as the “arch-persecutor” of the church (Roman Damascus, p. 1572) because of his violent treatment of believers. Saul’s plan to stamp-out Christianity before it was spread abroad caused him to seek letters from the high priest to the synagogues in Damascus “that if he found any of this way; whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1-2). Saul’s reference to Christianity as “the way” may have been meant as a derogatory comment against its gospel message. The night before he was crucified, Jesus told his disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). It is likely Saul had heard Jesus’ words repeated by his apostles and was determined to prove them wrong.
Luke’s account of Saul’s conversion showed that he was stopped dead in his tracks as he proceeded to carry out his plan of preventing the gospel from spreading through Damascus, the hub of a vast commercial network with far-flung lines of caravan trade reaching into north Syria, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Persia, and Arabia (Roman Damascus, p. 1572). Luke said:
And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus, whom thou persecutes: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. (Acts 9:3-5)
Jesus’ message to Saul was intended to make him aware of the fact that he wasn’t doing God’s work, he was hindering it. The statement “it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” could be simply translated as “Saul, you’re going the wrong way!” Saul’s immediate submission to Jesus’ authority is apparent in his question, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6).
Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus resulted in him being blind for three days until a man named Ananias came and laid his hands on him (Acts 9:9, 17). During that time, people may have wondered if Saul had lost him mind or was having a nervous break down. There was no apparent explanation as to why Saul suddenly changed his mind about arresting the Christians in Damascus. The only one who knew what was going on was a man named Ananias, who had received a message from the Lord about Saul’s conversion. Ananias was directed to go to Saul’s location and was told to put his hands on him so that he could recover his sight (Acts 9:11-12), but Luke indicated Ananias was reluctant to obey the Lord’s command because of Saul’s bad reputation. He said:
Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake. (Acts 9:13-16)