Saul, Saul
Based on Series of Sermons on the Repetition of Name and Titles
Preached in PCC Worship Service, 15 September 2013
Part 1 of 3 

We are continuing in our study of the repetition of names in the Bible and we have arrived at Acts 9:1-19 where we find Saul’s name being repeated by our Lord.

The Bible mentions three persons who go by the name Saul. Little is known about the first one but much is recorded about the second and third. The first Saul is found in Genesis 36:37. He was one of the descendants of Esau and one of the kings of the Edomites.

The second Saul is the famous first king of Israel, whom Samuel anointed. King Saul was the son of Kish and he came from the tribe of Benjamin.

The third Saul in the Bible is the well-known Pharisee who zealously persecuted the early Christians but was later converted to Christ on his way to Damascus. He, like King Saul, came from the tribe of Benjamin.

The Bible also mentions three persons who go by the name Ananias. The first Ananias is the most famous of the three. He, together with his wife Sapphira, lied to the apostles and indeed the Holy Spirit concerning the amount of money that they had sold their property for. Both Ananias and his wife were stuck dead by the Lord for their grievous sin.

The second Ananias in the Bible is the disciple at Damascus whom the Lord sent to Saul in order to be the instrument of healing for his eyesight and to inform him of his special calling from Christ.

The third Ananias in the Bible is the one who served as high priest from AD 47 to 59. He was the one who presided over the Sanhedrin when Paul was arrested and brought before it in Acts 23.

So there are three Sauls’ and three Ananias’ in the Bible. Our text brings us into contact with the third Saul and the second Ananias, and shows us how the Lord brought them into contact with each other.

There are three parts to this passage. From verses 1-9, Saul encounters Jesus. Then from verses 10-16, Ananias encounters Jesus, and finally from verses 17-19, Saul encounters Ananias. We’ll consider just the first part in this article.

Saul Encounters Jesus 
(vv. 1-9) 

In Acts 8:3, we are told that Saul sought to destroy the church in Jerusalem by going from house to house to arrest Christian men and women, and putting them in prison. However, so great was his zeal against Christianity that he was not satisfied with the results of his campaign in Jerusalem.

And so at the beginning of chapter 9, he goes to the high priest, who was still Caiaphas at that time, in order to obtain permission from him to persecute Jewish Christians outside of Palestine.

His first destination was Damascus, which was about 200km northeast of Jerusalem. The journey there would take about a week or so. Damascus was an important commercial centre, and merchants from all over the ancient world converged there. We know from historical records that there were many thousands of Jews in Damascus during that time. The Jewish Christian population there must have been quite substantial too, and so Saul targeted the city of Damascus.

He requested the high priest to issue letters instructing the synagogues of Damascus to assist Saul in arresting Christian men and women and having them brought back to Jerusalem to stand trial and to be punished.

It is interesting how in verse 2, the disciples of the Lord are said to belong to the Way. This term “the Way” is one of the first names that described the Christian faith. It probably came from John 14:6 where the Lord Jesus declares that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and that there is no other Way to the Father but by Him.

And so Paul set off on the way (the same Greek word see 9:17) to Damascus in order to eliminate followers of the Way.

In verses 3 and 4, we read, “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?”

In Acts 26:13, Paul told King Agrippa that this incident occurred around midday or noon time and the light from heaven that shone about him was brighter than the sun itself. Saul was stopped in his tracks and totally overpowered by this brilliant supernatural light so that he fell to the ground.

From Acts 9:17, we gather that Saul didn’t just see a bright light from heaven but that he saw the Lord Jesus Himself. Then in Acts 9:27, we read that Barnabas brought Saul to the apostles and told them how Saul had seen the Lord and heard His voice. In other words, Saul had a most remarkable encounter with the resurrected and ascended Lord.

Those who were traveling with Saul saw the bright light and all of them fell to the ground but they did not see the Lord. Furthermore, they heard a voice speaking but did not understand or discern what it said. Only Saul heard and understood the words of Christ. “Saul, Saul,” He called out, “why persecutest thou me?”

Someone once said that it is very hard, if not impossible, to call someone’s name twice in an angry way. If you’re angry with someone, you’ll probably just say the name once, maybe even the full name but still you’ll say it just once, and you’ll probably emphasize every syllable of it. But the one thing you’ll probably not do is to repeat the name. Name repetition, especially in Semitic cultures, is a sign of deep and close friendship. So when the Lord calls someone’s name twice, He is conveying His close relationship and friendship with that person.

Here in Acts 9, the Lord was no doubt rebuking Saul for persecuting His people, which was a very serious sin. But notice that this was not a harsh or angry rebuke. Rather, it was rebuke mingled much tenderness and affection and love and Saul himself would have recognized this element of endearment.

Then having called his name twice, the Lord goes on to say, “why persecutest thou me?” This is truly a remarkable statement. Saul was persecuting men and women of the Way, and yet the Lord declares that he was persecuting Him. It shows how closely the Lord is identified with His people. To persecute a follower of Christ is nothing less than persecuting Christ Himself.

Saul must have been stunned when he heard that he had been guilty of persecuting not the church but this awesome and heavenly person. All along, he thought he had been doing God a service by opposing Christians. But he was wrong. Quite clearly, someone from heaven was not pleased with what he had been doing. But who was He?

And so in verse 5, he asked, “Who art thou, Lord?” To which the Lord said, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” The Lord Jesus now explicitly reveals Himself to Saul. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Jesus is the Way and all who are of that Way are intimately joined or united to Him. They are part of His body. He and His people are one.

It is no wonder that of all the writers of the New Testament, it is the apostle Paul who most frequently mentions this marvellous union of Christ and His people. For example, he writes in Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” And again in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

The phrase, “it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks or the goads” is drawn from agricultural language and was a well-known proverb throughout the Mediterranean world. The idea is that of an ox who refuses to be put to work by his master. The master uses a goad or a sharp stick to prod the ox along but the ox kicks back in resistance, only to experience a sharper pain caused by the point of the goad. This proverb is meant to teach that resistance is not only in vain but that it incurs greater injury and suffering. If Saul continues to persecute the church, he would not only fail but he would actually be destroying himself.

And so in pursuing and arresting and destroying the people of Jesus, Saul had opposed the risen Lord Himself, which was both futile and dangerous. And he recognized this the moment the Lord appeared to him and identified Himself. He didn’t need any further proof or persuasion that Jesus is truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Luke goes on to say in verse 6, “And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” He humbly submits himself to the will of the Lord. This is a very remarkable change considering that just moments ago, he was filled with hatred for Christ and His people. But now that he has been soundly and thoroughly converted, he will no longer kick against the pricks. Instead, he will go where the master leads him and do what the master commands him.

“And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” (Acts 9:6b)

Rather than overwhelming him further by telling him what he is to do from now onwards or what the future holds for him, the Lord gives him a simple instruction. He is to get up, go into the city and await further instructions from the Lord.

“And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.” (Acts 9:8-9)

The brightness of the light and the glorious vision of Christ resulted in temporary blindness. He was unable to see anything when he got to his feet. Those who were with him were not blinded and so were able to lead him by the hand into the city.

What an ironic contrast to what he had earlier planned to do! Saul had expected to enter Damascus as the great and zealous persecutor of Christianity. But now, he is blind and has to be led by another into the city. He who wanted to bring prisoners bound from Damascus to Jerusalem is now being led like a prisoner into Damascus. The great enemy of Christ had himself been arrested by Christ.

For three days he neither ate nor drank anything. This means that he fasted during that period. Saul needed time to meditate and reflect and pray over what had just happened. He must have repented of his sins, particularly of persecuting the church, and he earnestly sought the Lord in prayer.

In our next article, we will consider Ananias’ encounter with Jesus.

—Linus Chua