The conversion of Paul has been recorded three times in the New Testament: Acts 9:1-20, Acts 22:1-21, and Acts 26: 11-23. Each time the story is presented in front of a different audience with a few additional details. By going through all three, we can garner a complete picture. Let’s learn about Paul meeting Jesus and Ananias and why Paul is baptized.
The Backstory of Paul
As we will soon read, Paul is trying to stop an infection before it spreads. And he thought he was honoring God while doing this. It’s important to understand that although he was very religious, he was also wrong. Saul (his name at the time) was a “good” Jew and was going from town to town on the orders of the high priest to go and kill and imprison Christians.
Saul was traveling from Gaza to Damascus. This walk probably took about a week as it was around 100 miles. And as he was talking, a bright light knocked him to the ground. How bright does light have to be to hit one to the ground?
Now Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the high priest 2 and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. 4 Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul said. “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the sound but seeing no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing. So they took him by the hand and led him into Damascus. 9 He was unable to see for three days and did not eat or drink.
If we read Acts 9:4 and Acts 26:14 side by side, we hear the Lord is also asking how hard it is to kick against the goads. When an Ox refuses to go where you want them to, you take a long sharp stick and poke it at them to move forward. The stick is called a goad. Sometimes when the animal doesn’t want to obey, it will kick against the goad and injury itself. In this instance, what is the goad for Saul? Could it be his conscience or that God has been stirring inside him? (We all know that feeling).
Jesus Introduces Himself
In Acts 9:5, Saul asks who it is that is in front of Him. And Jesus says it is He. Wow. Acts 26:15-18 records that at this moment, Jesus also gave Paul a life purpose – his destiny. Jesus will take Paul from his people and then send him back to his people.
Side Note: Since this is a conversion experience, I wanted to make mention that nothing up until this point mentions Saul is converted, saved, has salvation, etc. Saul meets Jesus – face to face and is still not converted. What happens is He is blinded for three days (Acts 9:9).
For three days, Saul did not eat or drink. He just fasted. Perhaps similarly to Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:4) – wholly distraught and upset, he became no longer hungry.
Saul, Meet Paul.
Did other Christians know that Saul was on his way to destroy them? Yes. Imagine that. God calls you to you, and your response is horaó, or “I see, perceive, and discern.” And when God tells you to meet a man named Saul, you use all your horaó to argue with God. “Woah, now, I know about him; no, thank you.
10 There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” “Here I am, Lord,” he replied. 11 “Get up and go to the street called Straight,” the Lord said to him, “to the house of Judas, and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, since he is praying there. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and placing his hands on him so that he may regain his sight.” 13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard from many people about this man, how much harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And he has authority here from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for this man is my chosen instrument to take my name to Gentiles, kings, and Israelites. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
Let’s also remember that Paul was staying with a buddy named Judas. We don’t have a lot of information about Judas. But imagine with me for a moment you were blinded; who would you stay with? Family maybe? Your closest friends? People that shared your same opinion on Christians? And God is telling Ananias not to worry about these Christian killers; you have a job. You are going to bring Sight to the blind (Acts 8:17)!
17 Ananias went and entered the house. He placed his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road you were traveling, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 At once something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19 And after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul was with the disciples in Damascus for some time. 20 Immediately he began proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues: “He is the Son of God.”
When Was Paul Saved; Paul Is Baptized?
We already established that when Paul met Jesus, it wasn’t then. The only thing Jesus did for Saul was to give him a hefty dose of conviction, most likely, and Jesus gave him blindness. Here in the order of events, we also learned that Jesus healed him and that he could see. But that was before his baptism. Do you think he was “saved” when he could see, and baptism was his response to salvation? It could read that way – but let’s read another side of this story to learn why Paul is Baptized:
11 “Since I couldn’t see because of the brightness of the light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and went into Damascus. 12 Someone named Ananias, a devout man according to the law, who had a good reputation with all the Jews living there, 13 came and stood by me and said, ‘Brother Saul, regain your sight.’ And in that very hour I looked up and saw him. 14 And he said, ‘The God of our ancestors has appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear the words from his mouth, 15 since you will be a witness for him to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now, why are you delaying? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’
Here Ananias asks Saul why he is delaying after he is healed—delaying from what? Delaying removing sin from Sauls’s life. Ananias is simply reteaching what Peter has already taught in Acts 2:28. Saul, stop waiting, be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins! Paul is still in sin and has not died in the flesh or was raised in a new life, even after meeting and being healed by Jesus.
The Greek sentence in Acts 22:16 says, “And now why delay you? Having arisen, be baptized and wash away the sins of you, calling on the name of Him.”
Questions To Ponder
- Why would Ananias tell Saul to be baptized if he had already believed in Jesus?
- Do you think Paul felt something when Jesus blinded Him?
- Do you think Paul felt something when Jesus healed Him?
- Why was baptism so necessary?
- Why did this scripture only mention baptism out of the four: Belief, Confess, Repent, Baptize?