Paul was converted by revelation. Every single person who has ever been converted to faith in Christ can make the same claim. They “saw the light,” and received it as if that message had come direct from heaven. That’s revelation. However, Paul’s revelation was somewhat different than most. He is not the only person I have heard of who was converted by what they saw as well as what they heard, i.e. by what they were externally experiencing as well as by what they were internally processing.
I remember the late John Wimber’s story of a lady in Anaheim who lived alone, and had no experience of Christianity in any shape or form. She was an all round, genuine twentieth century secularist. One evening as she arrived home from work while changing from work clothes to home wear, she heard a gentle voice say out loud in the bed room, “Mary! It’s time for you to get to know me” (I cannot remember what the real name of the lady was.). Somehow, she knew it was Jesus Christ speaking to her. She was shocked, but pleasantly so, and was not in any way afraid or concerned of an invisible man’s voice in her bedroom. She attended one of Wimber’s meetings that very night for the first time, explained her story, and was led to Christ. That’s what revelation of the invisible does, and that is what it is for.
I have met people in Africa who were brought into the kingdom after meeting Christ in a dream or a vision. Sometimes, the explanation sounded like neither dream nor vision, but a meeting of two people face to face entering into deep discussion, where the resulting understanding and faith, followed by a radical change of life, not omitting the instant disappearance of the person whom they had met, suggested strongly that they had encountered an angel, or even Christ Himself. That is revelation of the invisible. It is revelation by personalities normally invisible, momentarily stepping out from behind the curtain of invisibility to be revealed and to reveal.
Saul of Tarsus was a Christian despiser, and therefore a God hater as he made his way north to Damascus. He was looking for blood not God. He was thirsting for death not life. He had come with a message of annihilation for believers, not words of edification and life. His eyes could see, but he was blind. The revelation of Christ that threw him to the ground made him blind, yet, from that moment, he could see better than he had ever done before. By a revelation of Christ he was a changed man in an encounter that persisted just a few seconds.
In one single moment, in neither dream nor vision, nor even a trance, Jesus Christ Himself, literally and physically appeared to this man in such blinding light that it knocked him to the ground and took away for a while what was, hitherto, his perfectly sound sight. It is as if, in Paul’s conversion, God was exhibiting the classic traits and process of divine revelation to man. What are these standard ingredients when people receive revelation? We see it all in the three different accounts of this huge moment that impacts not only the progress of Christianity, but all of mankind as well. See Acts of the Apostles chapters 9, 22 and 26.
- The substance of the revelation is the light that came from heaven. This light flashed around Saul and was obviously traumatic. It is made all the more striking because the appearance of the light struck him about noon (Acts 26:13). The brightness was greater than that of the sun. At this initial moment of time, he does not know who or what is shining around him. It is scary and very strange. (Acts 9:3-4. Acts 22:6. Acts 26 12-14)). Revelation is commonly a sudden surprise of differing gradations on the spiritual “Richter Scale”. Be it a major or minor revelation, when it comes, it has the capacity to change a person for the better, and to facilitate that person’s capability of handling their circumstances and communication with others. It is God stepping out of time into a person’s arena of life. It is truly what Christianity is all about. It is a revelation of the invisible.
- Note that revelation from heaven can knock one to the floor. In retrospect he knew the light was from heaven (Acts 26:13). Did he discern that fact immediately? Saul fell to the ground (Acts 26:14). And notice it does not state that he fell off a horse or donkey as portrayed in much artwork of the scene (Acts 9,22 or 26). Not only was it revelation that floored Saul, but it was the divine glory of the person of Christ that took him down (Acts 9:3-4. Acts 22:6).
John the apostle had walked and talked with Jesus for around three years. He even lay on His bosom at the last supper, and spoke to him face to face, man to man. Yet when he encountered the risen glorified exalted Christ he also, just like Paul, hit the deck (Revelation 1:17). Revelation from heaven can have a profound impact in the immediate that may even seem negative (i.e. Daniel was pale in Daniel 7:28, and another time ill for several days (Daniel 8:27). Paul was totally blind and, “off his food,” for three days after this revelation. However, the goal of revelation when properly received is always positive for the long term purposes of the kingdom of God. It may be paralleled as major surgery being performed by Doctor Jesus Himself. It is surgery of the spiritual kind. It is not primarily applying the surgical knife to the flesh, but first and foremost the divine knife of God’s word that circumcises the spirit, the real heart of man. (I have, however, heard testimonies of many people whose health took a turn for the better after receiving the revelation of the truth of the gospel. And when God heals hearts, and lungs and other organs of the body, there are no ugly keloids afterwards.)
The realities and faculties of body, soul and spirit need time to convalesce and realign in the purpose of God once a person has been so wonderfully stopped in their tracks by the Almighty. Albert Einstein believed that light has some kind of physical substance. In the same vein I believe spiritual revelation has substance – I do not mean physical substance (Parhaps! Who knows?) – but in the realm of the spirit, the reception of revelation impacts the human spirit, and the mind needs to come to grips with the newly discovered reality. Psychological readjustment and reconstituting is the twenty first century term for what we are discussing.
- There is always a word, or a message with any revelation from God. Somehow the substance of what is seen, heard, smellt, touched or tasted by the spirit has to be digested by the mind and perfected in the resulting message, or declaration of what has been revealed. The message to Saul on the Damascus Road begins with the calling of his name twice; “Saul, Saul.” By which we understand that the revelation is a personal communication from whoever was speaking to Saul. The revelation came in a language Paul understood, ie: Aramaic (Acts 26:14). God always reveals Himself to people in a way they will understand. Divine revelation will always draw the recipient to Christ, it will glorify Christ and facilitate the recipient to be more established in their faith in Christ, or even, as in Saul’s case, actually bring them from unbelief to faith.
- “Why do you persecute me?” the voice asks. By this we understand that the blinding light is enshrouding a Person who has come to deliver this revelation, and this encounter is One to one. We of course, having the privilege of reading the Bible through, are fully aware that Saul was seeing and hearing the glorified Christ. But at this early moment of the interaction, Paul is shocked into a querulous state of mind that couldn’t grasp why he had been stopped, or by whom (Acts 9:4 Acts 22:7), although I don’t think it took him more than a few seconds to discern who it was. Whatever the experience or learning curve of a revelation, whether deep, deeper or deepest, it is always to prepare a person for the future and what they may encounter, whether that future encounter is with heaven or hell. God knows all things. This verbal revelation is completely embedded in the reality that the person and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ is the sum and substance of all revelation. In as much as all revelation is a prophetic statement from God, the testimony of Jesus is the very spirit of prophecy.
- Paul’s hearing was intact even if his sight was not. Who did he perceive was speaking to him? One of the Christians from Jerusalem now living in Damascus? Somebody he knew personally who was a Christian? He was persecuting Christians. He had come with letters of authority to round up as many Christians as he could and see them incarcerated or killed (Acts 22:4-5). Perhaps one of the Damascene Christians had heard about his mission and had come to confront him before he arrived in the city (Acts 9:4). He knew it was not sun stroke causing hallucination, for the men that were travelling with him also heard the sound and saw the light at the same moment, but could not interpret what the “noise” was saying (Acts 22:9). Perhaps it was nothing more than Paul’s travelling companion’s inability to understand Aramaic. They knew enough to know it was real, but not enough to know what was said. No hallucination here! The lesson is to submit to the manifestation of a divine revelation, but never ever suspend one’s critical faculties. Think hard and heavy – and biblically. Understand deeply, widely and spiritually. It is Christ-like to keep one’s mind in gear no matter what is happening to you in the touch-down of the revelation. Saul has all faculties on “Red Alert,” as in his blindness he seeks to pierce the darkness by investigating the whys and wherefores of his predicament.
By the time Saul was to stand on his feet he would understand the full tsunami that had swept him into the kingdom of God.
- Saul asks the reactive question with a sentence that is not quite so easily understood. If he had simply asked, “Who are you?” That would be obvious and straightforward. It is a natural question wanting to know who it was that had knocked him to the floor by just appearing. But what he actually says is, “Who are you, Lord?” Was this just a mark of respect to whoever it might be that would stop him thus in the middle of the road in such a mysterious fashion? Or did he know immediately that it was Christ? Whatever the answer to that question may be, it is certainly a response of immediate submission to the voice that challenged him and the person who had arrested him (Acts 9:5). Theologians, of course, are quick to tell us that the word “kyrios” is the Greek word used for “Lord” in Paul’s question. But it is not always so. Daniel the prophet always asked questions as he saw apocalyptic visions of animals warring, and strange beasts rising out of the sea. In his case there commonly seemed to be angels standing nearby (as they do), as if they were waiting for him to ask for more. Saul of Tarsus was doing the same thing here.
- “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). One would have thought that after this line there was no more to say; “Revelation complete!” But this was the opening of the doors to Paul’s heart, and there were other seeds to be planted in his mind even at this, possibly the most defining moment of Paul’s life. This line was the initial soul shaker. This statement of Christ was the first words in Saul’s re-creation. This line had so much embedded within its’ words, especially if, as many preachers and teachers seem to promulgate, Saul realised in the flash of light that it was Jesus Himself talking to Him. If they are correct, then we need to critically note that:
- It meant that Jesus of Nazareth whom he knew had died, was actually now alive.
- It meant, therefore, that Christ had been resurrected from the dead.
- It meant that heaven’s population, and especially its’ King knew the motivation behind what he was doing.
- It meant that although he believed “The Lord our God is One God,” that Christ Himself was integral with, yet separate from the Father in the Godhead. This fanatical pedantic Jew had in one line given an appellation to Jesus Christ that all Jews utilise when referring to Yahweh. In simple language, Saul was acknowledging that Jesus was Yahweh in the flesh.
- It meant, therefore, that he, Saul, was persecuting those that understood the truth, and was himself in doing so, believing a lie.
- It meant that even though he was killing and imprisoning Christian people, he was actually persecuting Jesus Himself.
- It meant that Saul’s entire understanding and motivation towards God had been incorrect. He realised therefore, in that moment, that he was utterly wrong in his motivational reasoning as taught by his Pharisaic tenets of belief.
- It meant that an entirely new world view had to be negotiated and absorbed by Saul. “Paradigm shift required!” seems to be a mammoth understatement.
- It meant that the theological absolutes that he had been killing for were only part of the story, and because it was only part of God’s full testimony, he had hitherto mixed up a lot of “lying variables” in with the “truth talking absolutes” of God’s nature and word. He realised in the blink of his now blind eye that without all the absolutes revealed externally by God Himself, we are left rudderless in a sea of conflicting ideas about righteousness, justice and right and wrong, issuing from a multitude of self-opinionated God seekers that only have half or even less of God’s statement to mankind. Saul of Tarsus was happy to kill people, as were other Pharisees in previous days, for the sake of the God of love. Oh the pain when Saul discovered he had believed a lie and killed for that lie. Yet, amazingly, Christ had not come to him in judgement or in vengeance to kill Paul for Stephen’s death. Somehow, Christ who is God, had utterly ignored “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
- It meant that the man who contentedly looked after the coats so that their owners could kill “that no good, lying follower of the way, Stephen, for claiming to see Jesus alive in heaven with his own eyes,” was defending a lie and attempting to kill the truth when Stephen was stoned.
- He had just been blinded by the light of the glory of God that surrounded the Lord Jesus. When Paul later wrote, “God who commanded light to shine out of darkness has shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” he was explaining what was, for him, the physical literal truth of his conversion (2 Corinthians 4:6). This verse infers very clearly that the most important aspect of Saul’s reception of this revelation was gentleness, meekness, love, acceptance and tenderness. This, above all, was the factor that dissolved the murderous thoughts and attitudes that he had carried to Damascus. Saul was now a new creation. Somebody needed to shout, “Take off the grave clothes.”
- Consciously or unconsciously, Saul of Tarsus was fully under new management.
- We have more of the dialogue of Christ revealed in Acts 26 than we do in Acts 22 or chapter 9, each line of which teaches us much.
- “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” A goad, in simple terms, is a spear head stuck at the end of pole that farmers used to prod their oxen with to keep them walking in a straight line when ploughing. An Ox-goad was so sharp that it was used as a weapon in warfare (Judges 3:21) when proper weapons were unavailable to Israel. These incredible words of Christ to Saul could mean only one thing; Saul had heard the gospel and fought against it previous to this moment. Each time he heard the gospel truth he kicked against it and refused to submit. When the goad of the claims of Christ bid him change his direction, he ignored the spear point of the ox-goad. For Jesus to use these words tells us implicitly that Saul of Tarsus had possibly heard Jesus speak in the days of His flesh. In short-and in plain English: Saul had heard and understood and felt the call of God to submit to the gospel. Each refusal hurt him and caused Saul’s heart to harden. For that reason Jesus declares, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
- Acts 26:15-18 gives us the full answer of Christ to the question, “Who are you, Lord?” Jesus did not waste a word. “Now get up and stand on your feet.” Meaning, “There is no time to waste Paul! Life is too short! I’ve got lots for you to do! Up and at it!
- “I have appeared to appoint you as a doulos (slave)” (Acts 26:16). There is Saul’s apostolic commission. Let him who would be master of all make himself servant of all. These words were predictive of something that would not properly start for perhaps a decade, but the seed was planted in His spirit by the Darling of heaven Himself at those opening moments of his conversion.
- “To appoint you as a servant and a witness of what you have seen of me” (Acts 26:16). Every time Christ appeared to Saul after this initial meeting, there was revelation. Revelation of all kinds of things that were relevant to building the kingdom of God in people’s lives and situations. Saul of Tarsus was to see much more of Christ, and have a much renewed mind concerning all things spiritual.
- “to appoint you … a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you” (Acts 26:16). This is God’s commitment to have ongoing revelation and understanding as Saul progressed the kingdom of God wherever he went. Saul was to spend his entire life being shown things from heaven. His revelatory gifting would come first hand from the mouth of Jesus Christ Himself.
- “I will rescue you from your own people and from the gentiles” (Acts 26:17). This is the bad news. He is clearly told at the very point of conversion that he will be in need of rescuing. The need to be rescued will be so great that it will only be God Himself who could do the rescuing. That is news that is as good as it is bad. But who will he need rescuing from? Answer: “Your own people (the Jews) and the gentiles”. I may need correcting, but in my mind once you have accounted for the Jews and the gentiles there is nobody else on the planet to account for. Jews and gentiles comprise the entire world. So we have the once murderous Saul being informed by Christ that the entire world will be against him for the things he will see and know and discover of the person and glory of Jesus Christ. Such a phenomenon has never been known before except for . . . eh! . . . Oh yes! . . . except for the Lord Jesus Himself. This means that before Saul of Tarsus even gets back on his feet, God had chosen him to be Christ like in several aspects of life that would permeate Saul’s total personal identity.
- Paul’s commission was defined by Christ in all its breadth and depth with parameters that cannot be mistaken. 1. To open the eyes of both Jews and gentiles. At that moment Saul was blind, yet could see clearer than many. 2. To turn the world from spiritual darkness to spiritual light. 3. To turn all he ministered to from the power of Satan to the power of God. 4. In ministering in this manner it would lead them to receive the forgiveness of sin. 5. The forgiveness of sin would facilitate a place among those who are set apart and made clean by faith in Christ. (Acts 26:18)
- The words of prophetic revelation from Christ to the ex-murderous Pharisee was about a personal assignment given by God’s own choosing to Saul (Acts 22:10). It was to be an assignment that would take the rest of his natural life to fulfil. That assignment was, in effect, his call to apostleship and rejection. Paul would have to wait three days in darkness until that assignment was explained to him in even more detail.
- Further confirmation of the assignment was, by Christ’s own direction, explained by another man (Acts 22:10. Acts 22:14-16). I believe we need to note the importance of Ananias saying, “You will witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.” It is my consistent and persistent thesis that the true gospel has something to see as well as something to hear.
- A key ingredient to this glass case example of a revelation, and the illustration of how to respond to such, is Paul’s statement, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” He did both what Jesus instructed him to do, as well as what Ananias enjoined upon him. Submission and obedience to what he believed to be of God was to be his life’s hallmark from that moment on.
- Ananias told Saul clearly that, “the God of our fathers has chosen you to know His will and to see the Righteous one and to hear the words from His mouth.” He whom Saul had met on the Damascus road was to be revealing Himself to Saul many times in the future. It seems that whatever Christ had been saying to the other twelve apostles during the three years or so of His earthly ministry, was to be abbreviated yet strongly imparted into Saul’s heart and mind throughout the rest of his life.
All the above was what was pummelling the punch bag of his tenaciously held beliefs in a single moment after Jesus had spoken a few phrases to him. And make no mistake, it was not only Saul’s belief system that was being ripped apart and restructured, but at the very deepest level, Saul’s understanding of himself, his personal identity and self image was immediately under a huge seismic mind quake that was to ultimately bring a new name along with it.
Without doubt, some lifestyles need a traumatic U-turn in order to step into the will of God and none less than a man with a murderous proclivity on grounds of religion. The invasion of God’s love shed abroad in Saul’s heart by the Holy Spirit is truly, heavenly Electro Convulsive Therapy. It might not be electricity per se, and it may or may not cause “convulsions” literally, however, it clearly ploughed through the thought processes of a previously unrestrained evil mind of violence and hate. Never mistake deep religiosity and mere outward piety for calm serenity. Outward shows of godliness can be easily manufactured. It is when the outer skin matches the peace within that Christ is seen to reign.
The moment came and passed. The revelation of what was utterly unperceived invisibility to Saul was a moment of such greatness that it impacts humanity even in the twenty-first century. That is what divine revelation does to people and for mankind.
- Unifying The Church: The Book of Romans (yourgodmoments.wordpress.com)
- Meet the Master ! (africanyoungpastors.wordpress.com)
- The Author of Ephesians: Paul (24emmausroad.wordpress.com)
- Introduction to Ephesians (revelationsoftheinvisible.wordpress.com)