Saul baffles the Jews in Damascus. They expect him to defend Judaism against the new movement, but now he is preaching that Jesus is the Son of God (v. 20) and proving that Jesus is the Christ (v. 22). Luke tells of their reaction, they are astonished (v. 21) and baffled (v. 22). Meanwhile, Saul grows more and more powerful. He cannot be beaten in argument and so the Jews plan to kill him instead (v. 23). Here is another example of unreasonable and unreasoning blind belligerence.
The reluctance of the believers in Jerusalem to accept Saul was only broken by the encouraging intervention of Barnabas (v. 27). Saul is described as “speaking boldly” (v. 28), and he “talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews” (v. 29), but again the response is not to recognise his argument but to seek to kill him (v. 29). For his own safety he is sent to his hometown of Tarsus (v. 30).
The following verse (v. 31) is a summary of the life of the church at this time. It is probably about AD 35. The church now has a time of peace. It is free of external threat, strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, growing numerically and living in reverence of God. With Saul’s conversion, the persecutions which followed the death of Stephen come to an end.
Luke’s account of Saul’s conversion is now complete. Paul’s calling was to take the gospel not only to Jews but to the Gentile world. He was God’s chosen instrument to bring about the spread of the gospel throughout the Roman Empire.
The effects of his conversion are seen starkly in his changed intention; he approaches Damascus to arrest followers of the Way (v. 2), but when he arrives in the city, he preaches that Jesus is God the Son (v. 20).
This gospel, which will turn the world upside down, will first transform its messenger. Paul’s contribution to the Gentile mission was unique, but first he had to experience the revolutionary newness of being in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The emphasis of Paul’s ministry and God’s gospel is that at the centre of God’s purpose is a person: Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Saul’s opposition to Christ is apparent from Acts 7–9. How has Saul changed after he met the risen Christ? How have you changed after you believed in Jesus?
Reflect on the experience of the church in Acts 9:31. How do you think a church “living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit” would look like?