Saul’s Preaching Excites Hostility
THE Jews in Damascus could not understand it. How could a passionate defender of orthodoxy have become an apostate? Here was Saul, the man who had harassed those calling on Jesus’ name in Jerusalem. He had come to Damascus to persecute the disciples there. But now he himself was preaching that the same despised felon impaled for blasphemy was the Messiah! Had Saul gone mad?—Acts 9:1, 2, 20-22.
Perhaps there was an explanation. Others who traveled from Jerusalem in the same caravan as Saul may well have spoken about what transpired on the road. As they approached Damascus, suddenly a bright light flashed around them, and all of them fell to the ground. There was also the sound of a voice. No one except Saul was hurt. He was lying on the road. When he finally got up, other travelers had to lead him into Damascus, for he could not see a thing.—Acts 9:3-8; 26:13, 14.
An Opponent Becomes a Proponent
What had happened to Saul on the road to Damascus? Had the long journey or the heat of the midday sun perhaps debilitated him? Determined to find natural explanations, modern skeptics offer scenarios that include delirium, hallucination, a drastic psychological crisis provoked by the qualms of Saul’s tormented conscience, a nervous breakdown, and an assumed predisposition to epilepsy.
The fact was that Jesus Christ appeared to Saul in that blinding light, convincing him that He was the Messiah. Some artistic depictions of this episode show Saul falling from a horse. Though that is possible, the Bible simply says that he “fell to the ground.” (Acts 22:6-11) Whatever physical fall Saul experienced was not nearly so great as the fall from the pride of his position. He now had to recognize that what Jesus’ followers were preaching was true. The only course open to Saul was to join them. From a militant foe of Jesus’ message, Saul became one of its staunchest proponents. After regaining his sight and getting baptized, “Saul kept on acquiring power all the more and was confounding the Jews that dwelt in Damascus as he proved logically that this is the Christ.”—Acts 9:22.
Assassination Plot Fails
Where did Saul, later called Paul, go after his conversion? When writing to the Galatians, he said: “I went off into Arabia, and I came back again to Damascus.” (Galatians 1:17) The term “Arabia” allows for a journey into any part of the Arabian Peninsula. Some scholars suggest that Paul may have gone into the Syrian Desert or elsewhere in the Nabataean kingdom of Aretas IV. Very likely, Saul went to a quiet place for meditation after his baptism, even as Jesus went into the wilderness following his immersion.—Luke 4:1.
When Saul returned to Damascus, “the Jews took counsel together to do away with him.” (Acts 9:23) The governor who served as King Aretas’ representative in Damascus was guarding the city in order to seize Saul. (2 Corinthians 11:32) But while enemies plotted Saul’s death, Jesus’ disciples planned his escape.
Among those who helped Saul to escape were Ananias and the disciples whose company the apostle enjoyed immediately after his conversion.* (Acts 9:17-19) Some who had become believers because of Saul’s preaching in Damascus may also have helped, for Acts 9:25 states: “His disciples took him and let him down by night through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.” The expression “his disciples” may mean those whom Saul taught. In any case, the success of his ministry likely fueled the animosity already harbored against him.
A Lesson to Be Learned
When we examine some of the events surrounding Saul’s conversion and baptism, we clearly see that he was not overly concerned about how others judged him; neither did he quit because of severe opposition. What mattered most to Saul was the preaching commission he had received.—Acts 22:14, 15.
Have you recently become convinced of the importance of preaching the good news? If so, you know that all true Christians must be Kingdom preachers. You should not be surprised if your ministry at times provokes hostile reactions. (Matthew 24:9; Luke 21:12; 1 Peter 2:20) Saul’s response to opposition is exemplary. Christians who endure under trials without giving up will have God’s favor. Jesus told his disciples: “You will be objects of hatred by all people because of my name.” Yet, he assured them: “By endurance on your part you will acquire your souls.”—Luke 21:17-19.
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Saul “fell to the ground” when Jesus appeared to him
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Saul escaped an assassination plot in Damascus