"God Who...calls me through His grace, to unveil His Son in me that
be evangelizing Him among the nations" -- Galatians 1:15,16
IN THE PUBLICITY of oriental life, Saul could no longer have any privacy
from the moment he left the house in the street which is still called "Straight"
in modern Damascus. Saul was like a stranger from the capital who had just arrived in a
small town and was walking down Main Street, while accompanied by a prominent citizen. For
Ananias was well known as "a pious man according to the law, being attested by all
the Jews dwelling there" (Acts 22:12). Under the circumstances, it is obvious that
Saul was to meet the members of the local Jewish community right away, even though he
could not possibly know that his first stay in Damascus would be limited to "some
days" only (Acts 9:19b).
The Lord Himself had prepared the circumstances for Saul,
so that he would see the believers first. Ananias could vouch for the former persecutor
and introduce him to the Jewish disciples in Damascus. Thus Saul was going to enjoy
fellowship with others whom the Lord had called before him. We may be sure of the fact
that Saul told the brethren how the Lord had met him outside Damascus and that Ananias
corroborated his story, even in some of the details which he had learned from the Lord in
his own vision.
We can understand that Saul's baptism in water, as a symbol
for spirit baptism, had been necessary under the circumstances, so as to substantiate the
cleansing of his former conduct, thus ensuring the unity with those who had been cleansed
THE SYMBOL AND THE ACTUAL
About thirty years later, when baptism in
water was no longer required, there was only one baptism left, that of the spirit
(Eph.4:4,5). The first was the symbol of the second which is the actual.
The symbol was performed by man in a matter of minutes. It was nothing but a ceremonial,
of no efficacy in itself. The actual, i.e. spirit baptism, is performed by God Who keeps
us sealed with the holy spirit of promise (Eph.1:13).
In Ephesians, the apostle uses the words of the symbol in
order to emphasize the lifetime efficacy of the baptism of the spirit which is the actual.
He writes (Eph.5:25-27): "Christ also loves the ecclesia, and gives Himself up for
its sake, that He should be hallowing it, cleansing [it in] the bath of the water (with
His declaration), that He should be presenting to Himself a glorified ecclesia, not having
spot or wrinkle or any such things, but that it may be holy and flawless".
In the Greek, cleansing is a timeless fact, valid
in the past as it is at present and in the future; and the Greek word for in en
occurs only once, before declaration (literally: cleansing...in
declaration). From this we gather that there is no longer a ceremonial baptism, lasting
some short minutes, but rather a spiritual cleansing, lasting a lifetime. It is no longer
done by bathing in ordinary water; now it is the bath of the living water, in a divine
declaration of Christ in His celestial glory. All believers have part in it today,
all have their hearts cleansed.
It should be noted that in Ephesians Christ is seen in His
celestial glory, seated at God's right hand. And the believers are no longer compared to branches
of the Grapevine which are lopped off when they fail to bring fruit (John 15:1-6). Now all
believers are called members of His body (Eph.5:30); i.e., they are vitally and
organically a part of Christ Himself. He would be maimed by the excision of a single
member of His body!
The change from Grapevine to Head of the entire body
(Eph.4:16), and from branches to members, required new divine declarations, such
as Paul learned from Christ in His celestial glory, which he wrote down for us in his
epistles. Not by a single bathing in water, but rather by continuous bathing in His
declarations, are the members of the ecclesia cleansed and hallowed until the whole is
fully glorified, holy and flawless, without any spots or wrinkles. Let us speed that day
by continuous bathing in this testimony of our Lord (2 Tim.1:8) of which Paul has become
the witness. It is the lasting efficacy of this continuous cleansing which will ensure the
unity of all who are thus cleansed.
"And immediately, in the synagogues, he heralded
Jesus, that He is the Son of God" (Acts 9:20). The Lord had prepared the
circumstances for Saul, so that he was to face the unbelieving Jews of Damascus immediately
after having visited with the disciples. In the synagogues, he was expected to appear as
the plenipotentiary of the chief priests in Jerusalem, in order to punish any believing
Jewish men or women. If they would not blaspheme the name of Jesus (Acts 26:11), he was
authorized to arrest them and take them before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem for trial and
capital punishment (Acts 26:10b).
We may assume that Saul, weakened by three days' fasting,
and seeing his Pharisaic creed shattered, was still unable to fully coordinate and
harmonize the new truth with the law of Moses and the prophets and psalms (Luke 24:44). It
does not seem likely that, at this early date, he was in a position to argue with
unbelieving Jews. However, "in the synagogues, he heralded Jesus, that He is
the Son of God". We may further assume that Saul felt no need for telling his
audience any details of how Christ in His celestial glory had met him outside the city. By
heralding Jesus as he himself had come to know Him, Saul was displaying the power of God
which had transformed the fiercest persecutor into the staunchest champion of His Son.
Nothing more was necessary to indicate that he had completely severed his ties with the
Sanhedrin, than this reference to the divine Sonship of Jesus Christ; for the Sanhedrin
had condemned Him to death because He had claimed to be the Son of God
"Now amazed are all who are hearing, and they said,
'is not this the one who, in Jerusalem, ravages those who are invoking this Name? And here
for this had he come that bound he may be leading them to the chief priests" (Acts
9:21). Saul's public confession was unexpected. The Jews who heard him, were dazed and
bewildered, just as Saul's companions had been dumb-founded on the road, three days
before. No swift action is taken against Saul locally, though the Jews might have reported
to the Sanhedrin that its plenipotentiary had defected.
There is still another aspect to the term
"immediately" in Acts 9:20. It might signify that Saul began heralding Jesus immediately
after his recovery, without consulting any of the twelve apostles in Jerusalem,
without waiting for Peter's or any other man's sanction. There was no time for Saul to
take any steps in this direction, nor was there any necessity, since he had received a
personal and direct commission from Christ in His celestial glory to bear His name first
and foremost to the nations, later to kings, and meanwhile to the sons of Israel among the
nations, such as in Damascus, outside the holy land (Acts 9:15). When we compare Saul's
commission with Peter's or John's, we will find that the difference is quite obvious (see
volume 54, pages 21, 83, 90, 125, 149, 231).
In chapter nine of Acts, there is a significant gap in time
between the "some days" of verse 19b and the "considerable number of
days" in verse 23. The Concordant Commentary gives this explanation: "At this
point occurs one of those striking omissions in the narrative [of Acts] which assure us
that it is concerned only with the kingdom, and that Paul's epistles differ from it in
purpose and scope. Paul passed a large part of three years in Arabia (Gal.1:17,18). This
journey is included in the `considerable number of days'. Where in Arabia he went, is not
revealed; in fact, the term itself is vague. He may have gone far south into the desert
between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, which is properly called Arabia. He may have
gone only a few miles from Damascus, and yet be in Arabia in the popular sense of the
term. Wherever he went, and whatever he did, it is evident that it has no bearing on the
narrative of Acts. Paul uses it in Galatians as evidence that he did not immediately
consult those who were apostles before him, so he could not have received his evangel from
them. As Acts deals only with that aspect of his ministry which had contact with the
commissions of the twelve, it is clear why this incident should be overlooked".
In Galatians 1:16,17, the apostle points to timeless facts
when he uses the words "calls" and "to unveil." God calls him
"through His grace, to unveil His Son in me that I may be evangelizing Him
among the nations." God's special revelation for him was progressive, for the vision
on the Damascus road had only been the beginning. We may assume that the unveiling of
God's Son for Saul was continued somewhere in the wilderness of Arabia, unhampered by the
perplexities of traditional Jewish thinking, Greek philosophy, and other human influences.
After His resurrection our Lord had opened up the minds of
His disciples so as to understand the Scriptures, just as He had enlightened Cleopas and
his companion before, "beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, He interprets
to them, in all the Scriptures, that which concerns Himself" (Luke 24:27,45). What He
had done for the elder apostles in the forty days following His resurrection, we may
safely assume, Christ in His celestial glory did for Saul in Arabia and on later
occasions. In his case, however, the divine interpretation of the Scriptures was
supplemented by progressive revelation of secrets, which had been concealed from the eons
We should keep in mind that Saul, on the Damascus road, had
suffered an unexpected and prostrating shock. He certainly was in need of rest to
recuperate his shattered mental powers, to coordinate his thinking, to harmonize the new
revelation and his old biased ideas on the Old Testament Scriptures. In order to become
fit for service under the new commission, he would need more, much more than just three
days of pondering on the sight of Christ in His celestial glory and His gracious words of
It is conceivable that the two different portrayals of Saul
in his Damascus service are years apart. In verses 19-21 we find him apparently still
weakened by three days' fasting, but somewhat strengthened after a meal, so as to be able
to go with Ananias, visiting with the disciples and immediately making the rounds of the
synagogues as we have just seen. His audiences are amazed at his heralding of the divine
Sonship of Jesus. This was his public confession of faith in the despised Nazarene.
Apparently his physical and mental condition at that time allowed no other effort during
the "some days" of his first stay in Damascus. Because of the limited time no
action is taken by the unbelieving Jews against the defector from the faith of the
"Yet Saul was the more invigorated, and threw the Jews
dwelling in Damascus into confusion, deducing that this One is the Christ. Now as a
considerable number of days were fulfilled, the Jews consult to assassinate him"
(Acts 9:22,23). This is another portrayal of the apostle; here he appears to be in the
best physical trim and mental acumen, ready and prepared to argue from the Scriptures
with the unbelieving Jews, "opening up and placing before them that the Christ must
suffer and rise from among the dead, and that `This One is the Christ--the Jesus Whom I am
announcing to you'" (Acts 17:2,3). This was "Paul's custom" about twenty
years later, and it seems to us that he probably started with this kind of thorough
deduction and argumentation in the synagogues of Damascus, after his return from the
Arabian desert retreat.
During the "some days" of verse 19b, Saul's public
confession of faith in Jesus, the Son of God, had resulted in amazement
among the unbelieving audience. However, after the greater part of three years, when he is
invigorated in body and spirit, his systematic work of deduction and argumentation
from the Scriptures resulted in confusion among the same audience. This new
situation is similar to the circumstances described in Acts 6:10; in their discussions
with Stephen, the Hellenistic Jews "were not strong enough to withstand the wisdom
and the spirit with which he spoke". Hence they decided to have him executed.
It would seem strange if Luke had said nothing about the
Jews' reason for their plotting against Saul (Acts 9:23). There can be no doubt but that
their action was caused by Saul's activity at his second stay in Damascus when he
"threw the Jews... into confusion, deducing that this One is the Christ". Even
if, at his first stay, he had finally succeeded in confuting them, we may assume that,
after his return from Arabia, his deductive argumentation would have become far more
thorough-going. Hence the Jews considered him to be a deserter who deserved to be killed.
"Yet known to Saul is their plot. Now they scrutinized
the gates also, both by day and by night, so that they may be assassinating him. Yet the
disciples, getting him at night, let him down through the wall, lowering him in a
hamper" (Acts 9:24,25). Many years later, when referring to this incident, the
apostle wrote (2 Cor.11:30,32,33), "If I must boast, I will be boasting in that which
is of my weakness... In Damascus the ethnarch of Aretas, the king, garrisoned the city of
the Damascenes, wanting to arrest me, and I am lowered in a wicker basket through a window
through the wall, and escaped his hands."
Saul's usefulness in Damascus was exhausted when his Jewish
foes had the whole garrison of the city on the alert to arrest him. An ethnarch (chief of
an ethnic group) was in charge of operations at that time since Roman rule had ceded the
city to the Arab Nabataean kingdom of Aretas, on the east side of the Jordan. Under the
circumstances, Saul could not claim his rights as a Roman citizen, nor ask for official
protection. This was one of Saul's early lessons, when he learned to rely on the Lord's
grace which is sufficient at all times, even in case of failure or harm to reputation.
We, in the apostle's place, might have boasted in our bold
heralding, but he boasts in his weakness, in his humiliating escape. This attitude is
characteristic of his career. He learned to delight in infirmities, in outrages, in
necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake, so that His power should
be tabernacling over him. Even if our own afflictions are very different from the
apostle's, our risen Lord's answer remains the same, "Sufficient for you is My grace,
for My power in infirmity is being perfected" (2 Cor.12:9,10).