The vicious persecutor Saul becomes a zealous minister
Based on Acts 9:1-43
1, 2. What did Saul intend to do in Damascus?
THE grim travelers are approaching Damascus, where they intend to carry out an evil plan. They will tear the hated disciples of Jesus from their homes, bind them, humiliate them, and drag them to Jerusalem to face the wrath of the Sanhedrin.
2 The mob leader, named Saul, already has blood on his hands.a Recently, he watched with approval as fellow zealots stoned to death Stephen, a devout disciple of Jesus. (Acts 7:57–8:1) Not content with raging against the followers of Jesus who live in Jerusalem, Saul becomes a firebrand ready to spread the flames of persecution. He wants to eradicate the pestilent sect known as “The Way.”—Acts 9:1, 2; see the box “Saul’s Mandate in Damascus.”
3, 4. (a) What happened to Saul? (b) What questions will we consider?
3 Suddenly, a brilliant light engulfs Saul. His traveling companions see the light but are speechless with shock. Saul, struck blind, collapses. Unable to see, Saul hears a voice from heaven say: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Stunned, Saul asks: “Who are you, Lord?” The answer Saul receives must strike him to the very core: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”—Acts 9:3-5; 22:9.
4 What can we learn from Jesus’ initial words to Saul? How can we benefit from reviewing the events surrounding the conversion of Saul? And what lessons can we draw from the way the congregation used the period of peace that settled in after Saul’s conversion?
“Why Are You Persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:1-5)
5, 6. What can we learn from Jesus’ words to Saul?
5 When Jesus stopped Saul on the road to Damascus, He did not ask: “Why are you persecuting my disciples?” As noted above, he said: “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4) Yes, Jesus personally feels the trials experienced by his followers.—Matt. 25:34-40, 45.
6 If you are being oppressed because of your faith in Christ, be assured that both Jehovah and Jesus are aware of your situation. (Matt. 10:22, 28-31) At present, the trial may not be removed. Remember, Jesus watched Saul’s involvement in Stephen’s death and saw Saul drag faithful disciples from their homes in Jerusalem. (Acts 8:3) Yet, Jesus did not intervene at that time. Even so, Jehovah, through Christ, gave Stephen and the other disciples the strength they needed to remain faithful.
7. What must you do in order to endure persecution?
7 You too can endure persecution if you do the following: (1) Resolve to remain loyal, come what may. (2) Ask for Jehovah’s help. (Phil. 4:6, 7) (3) Leave vengeance in Jehovah’s hands. (Rom. 12:17-21) (4) Trust that Jehovah will provide you with the strength to endure until he sees fit to remove the trial.—Phil. 4:12, 13.
“Saul, Brother, the Lord . . . Has Sent Me” (Acts 9:6-17)
8, 9. How might Ananias have felt about his assignment?
8 After answering Saul’s question, “Who are you, Lord?” Jesus said to him: “Get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:6) The sightless Saul was led to his lodgings in Damascus, where he fasted and prayed for three days. Meanwhile, Jesus spoke about Saul to a disciple in that city, a man named Ananias, who was “well-reported-on by all the Jews” dwelling in Damascus.—Acts 22:12.
9 Think of the mixed emotions Ananias must have felt! Here, the Head of the congregation, the resurrected Jesus Christ, was speaking to him personally, singling him out for a special assignment. What an honor, but what an assignment! When told that he must speak to Saul, Ananias responded: “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, about all the harm he did to your holy ones in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to arrest all those calling on your name.”—Acts 9:13, 14.
10. What do we learn about Jesus from the way he dealt with Ananias?
10 Jesus did not reprove Ananias for expressing his concern. However, Jesus did provide him with clear direction. And Jesus dignified him by telling him the reason why he wanted him to perform this unusual task. Jesus said of Saul: “This man is a chosen vessel to me to bear my name to the nations as well as to kings and the sons of Israel. For I will show him plainly how many things he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15, 16) Ananias promptly obeyed Jesus. He sought out the persecutor Saul and said to him: “Saul, brother, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road along which you were coming, has sent me so that you may recover sight and be filled with holy spirit.”—Acts 9:17.
11, 12. What do we learn from the events involving Jesus, Ananias, and Saul?
11 Several facts become evident from the events involving Jesus, Ananias, and Saul. For example, Jesus plays an active role in directing the preaching work, just as he promised he would. (Matt. 28:20) Although he does not speak directly to individuals today, Jesus does direct the preaching work by means of the faithful slave, whom he has now appointed over his domestics. (Matt. 24:45-47) Under the Governing Body’s direction, publishers and pioneers are sent out to find those who want to know more about Christ. As mentioned in the preceding chapter, many of such ones have prayed for guidance and have then been contacted by Jehovah’s Witnesses.—Acts 9:11.
12 Ananias obediently accepted an assignment and was blessed. Do you obey the command to bear thorough witness, even if the assignment causes you some apprehension? For some, going from house to house and meeting strangers can cause anxiety. Others find it a challenge to preach to people at their places of business, on the street, or via telephone or letters. Ananias overcame his fear and had the honor of helping Saul receive the holy spirit.b Ananias was successful because he trusted Jesus and he viewed Saul as his brother. We can overcome our fears if, like Ananias, we trust that Jesus is directing the preaching work, we have empathy for people, and we view even the most intimidating individuals as our potential brothers.—Matt. 9:36.
“He Began to Preach About Jesus” (Acts 9:18-30)
13, 14. If you are studying the Bible but are not yet baptized, what can you learn from Saul’s example?
13 Saul acted swiftly on what he learned. After he was healed, he submitted to baptism and began associating closely with the disciples in Damascus. But he did more. “Immediately in the synagogues he began to preach about Jesus, that this one is the Son of God.”—Acts 9:20.
14 If you are studying the Bible but are not yet baptized, will you be like Saul and act decisively on what you learn? Granted, Saul witnessed firsthand a miracle performed by Christ, and this no doubt helped to motivate him to action. But others also witnessed miracles performed by Jesus. For instance, one group of Pharisees watched as he cured a man’s withered hand, and a large number of the Jews in general knew that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Yet, many of them remained apathetic, even antagonistic. (Mark 3:1-6; John 12:9, 10) By contrast, Saul was transformed. Why did Saul respond when others failed to do so? Because he feared God more than man and he deeply appreciated the mercy Christ had shown to him. (Phil. 3:8) If you respond similarly, you will let nothing stop you from joining in the preaching work and from becoming qualified for baptism.
15, 16. What did Saul do in the synagogues, and how did the Jews in Damascus respond?
15 Can you picture the surprise, shock, and anger that must have rippled through the crowds when Saul began to preach about Jesus in the synagogues? “Is this not the man who ravaged those in Jerusalem who call on this name?” they asked. (Acts 9:21) When explaining his change of heart about Jesus, Saul “proved logically that this is the Christ.” (Acts 9:22) But logic is not a universal key. It cannot unlock every mind shackled by tradition or every heart bound by pride. Still, Saul did not give up.
16 Three years later, the Jews in Damascus were still contending with Saul. Finally, they sought to kill him. (Acts 9:23; 2 Cor. 11:32, 33; Gal. 1:13-18) When the plot became known, Saul chose the discreet course and left the city by allowing himself to be lowered in a basket through an opening in the city wall. Luke describes those who helped Saul escape that night as being “his [Saul’s] disciples.” (Acts 9:25) This wording seems to indicate that at least some who heard Saul speak in Damascus responded to his preaching and became followers of Christ.
17. (a) In what ways do people respond to Bible truth? (b) What should we continue to do, and why?
17 When you first started to tell your family, friends, and others about the good things you were learning, you may have expected that everyone would accept the sheer logic of Bible truth. Some may have done so, whereas many did not. Indeed, members of your own household may have treated you as an enemy. (Matt. 10:32-38) However, if you continue to improve in your ability to reason from the Scriptures and if you maintain Christian conduct, even those who oppose you might eventually have a change of heart.—Acts 17:2; 1 Pet. 2:12; 3:1, 2, 7.
18, 19. (a) When Barnabas vouched for Saul, what was the effect? (b) How can we imitate Barnabas and Saul?
18 When Saul entered Jerusalem, the disciples were understandably skeptical of his claims that he was now a disciple. However, when Barnabas vouched for Saul, the apostles accepted him, and he remained with them for a time. (Acts 9:26-28) Saul was discreet, but he was not ashamed of the good news. (Rom. 1:16) He boldly preached in Jerusalem, the very place from which he had launched vicious persecution against the disciples of Jesus Christ. To their horror, the Jews in Jerusalem realized that their champion had defected, and they now sought to kill him. “When the brothers found out about this,” states the account, “they brought [Saul] down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.” (Acts 9:30) Saul submitted to Jesus’ direction as expressed through the congregation. Both Saul and the congregation benefited.
19 Notice that Barnabas took the initiative to assist Saul. No doubt this kind act helped to foster the warm friendship that developed between these zealous servants of Jehovah. Do you, like Barnabas, willingly assist new ones in the congregation, working with them in the field service and helping them to progress spiritually? You will be richly rewarded if you do. If you are a new publisher of the good news, do you, like Saul, accept the help that is offered to you? By working along with more experienced publishers, you will improve in your skill in the ministry, your joy will increase, and you will form bonds of friendship that can last a lifetime.
“Many Became Believers” (Acts 9:31-43)
20, 21. How have God’s servants past and present made the most of ‘periods of peace’?
20 After Saul’s conversion and safe departure, “the congregation throughout the whole of Judea and Galilee and Samaria entered into a period of peace.” (Acts 9:31) How did the disciples use this favorable time? (2 Tim. 4:2) The account says that they were “being built up.” The apostles and other responsible brothers reinforced the faith of the disciples and took the lead as the congregation “walked in the fear of Jehovah and in the comfort of the holy spirit.” For example, Peter used the time to strengthen the disciples in the town of Lydda in the Plain of Sharon. His efforts caused many who lived in the vicinity to turn “to the Lord.” (Acts 9:32-35) The disciples did not become sidetracked by other pursuits but exerted themselves caring for one another and preaching the good news. The result was that the congregation “kept on multiplying.”
21 Toward the end of the 20th century, Jehovah’s Witnesses in many countries entered into a similar “period of peace.” Regimes that had oppressed God’s people for decades suddenly came to an end, and certain bans on the preaching work were eased or lifted. Tens of thousands of Witnesses seized the opportunity to preach publicly, with spectacular results.
22. How can you make the most of the freedom that you possess?
22 Are you making good use of the freedom you possess? If you live in a country that enjoys religious freedom, Satan would love to induce you to pursue material riches, not Kingdom interests. (Matt. 13:22) Do not be sidetracked. Use productively any periods of relative peace that you may now enjoy. View them as opportunities to bear thorough witness and to build up the congregation. Remember, your circumstances can change abruptly.
23, 24. (a) What points do we learn from the account involving Tabitha? (b) What should be our resolve?
23 Consider what happened to a disciple named Tabitha, or Dorcas. She lived in Joppa, a town not far from Lydda. This faithful sister used her time and assets wisely, abounding “in good deeds and gifts of mercy.” Suddenly, though, she fell ill and died.c Her death caused great grief among the disciples in Joppa, especially among the widows who had been touched by her kindness. When Peter arrived at the house where her body was being prepared for burial, he performed a miracle unprecedented among the apostles of Jesus Christ. Peter prayed and then raised Tabitha from the dead! Can you imagine the joy of the widows and other disciples when Peter called them back into the room and presented Tabitha to them alive? How these events must have strengthened them for the trials that lay ahead! Understandably, the miracle “became known throughout all Joppa, and many became believers in the Lord.”—Acts 9:36-42.
24 We learn two important points from this heartwarming account involving Tabitha. (1) Life is fleeting. How vital it is, then, that we make a good name with God while we are able to do so! (Eccl. 7:1) (2) The resurrection hope is sure. Jehovah noticed the numerous acts of kindness that Tabitha had performed, and he rewarded her. He will remember our hard work and will resurrect us if our life should end before Armageddon. (Heb. 6:10) So whether we are currently enduring “difficult times” or are enjoying “a period of peace,” let us persevere in bearing thorough witness to Christ.—2 Tim. 4:2.
b As a general rule, the gifts of the holy spirit were passed on through the apostles. In this unusual situation, however, it appears that Jesus authorized Ananias to transmit the gifts of the spirit to Saul. After his conversion, Saul was separated for a considerable time from contact with the 12 apostles. However, it is likely that he was active throughout that period. So Jesus apparently saw to it that Saul had the power he needed in order to carry out his preaching assignment.