And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest,…
I. THE PICTURE OF THE PERSECUTOR. It is almost the picture of a monster. It resembles the idea of the fearful dragon-monster, which breathes forth smoke and flame, and threatens to devour the sun and moon and stars. Saul is inspired by a murderous feeling against the disciples of Christ. He himself afterwards recognized that to persecute them was to persecute him (1 Timothy 1:13). Zeal for God without knowledge is another of his own descriptions of his state of mind (Romans 10:2). It leads directly to the devilish love of destruction (John 8:44). We can distinguish pure from carnal zeal only by the effects: the one impels us to build up, the other to destroy; the one to save men's lives, the other to slay, and making a solitude to call it peace. But there are deep problems in the life of mind. Never is a man madly irritated against an opinion, violent against a cause or a person, but it is a symptom of a struggle within. The man is really at war with himself. A conviction is reluctantly forcing its way upon him; he feels the goads of conscience, and vents his resentment upon objects outside of himself.
II. THE PERSECUTOR CHECKED IN HIS CAREER. Notice the accompaniments of the revelation. They are:
1. Outward. A light out of heaven like lightning plays around the persecutor. He falls to the earth like a thunder-struck man. In this position the impressions of the ear come in to enhance those of the eye. A voice is heard calling him by name: "Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me?"
2. Inward. Saul has no difficulty in putting these things together and drawing the true inference from them. "Who art thou, Lord?" betrays his suspicion, perhaps his certainty, that the voice is that of the crucified One, against whose might he has been striving. And the voice returns, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." Then follows the direction to go into Damascus and to await further orders. When the outward phenomena and the inward revelation are so closely interwoven, it is difficult to separate the one from the other, and unnecessary to do so. But the point to fix attention upon is this - that revelation is always in the soul. How the new truth comes to us is not of so much importance as what permanent deposit it leaves behind it. "It pleased God to reveal his Son in me," said the quondam persecutor. The true mystery and wonder lie in the soul; all else is superficial and subsidiary compared with that. By what passes within we may interpret what passes without, but not vice versa. This scene is far more impressive and sheds a clear light on the conflicts of our own being, if we see in it a man cast down by the sudden splendor and terror of a conviction against which he had long been struggling. It is said that we never understand a truth until we have striven against it. He whom we have battled against as a deadly foe becomes our lifelong master when we are once fairly defeated at his hands.
III. OTHER MEANINGS IN THE EVENT.
1. Here was a personal appearance of Jesus. Jesus lives! This is the thought which comforts his friends, and strikes terror into his foes. "I am he that is, and was, and is to come." "I am the living one!" (Revelation 1:4, 18). Never was this revelation of the living Christ forgotten by Saul. It afterwards became a main subject of his preaching, as it was the core of his creed. The living Christ is, indeed, the expression to us of the living and loving personality of God, of the will to save and to redeem evermore.
2. It was an appearance of Jesus in glory. The splendor and terror which surround him bespeak his sovereign might. "Why dost thou persecute me?" It is vain as well as wrong to contend against One to whose holiness and majesty the conscience bears its unerring witness. Saul seemed to think that he was wrestling against flesh and blood when he hurried those defenseless Christians; and that by weapons of flesh and blood Christianity might be overcome. But behold the majestic figure of One who comes with clouds. To offer him the show of violence is the extreme of irreverence and of folly. Never was this lesson forgotten. Our sins against our fellow-Christians are sins against Christ. We insult the love that suffered for us, and the majesty that rules and judges us.
3. Yet it was a revelation of the glorified humanity of Jesus. Saul saw him and heard him speak (ver. 17; 27:15). The Redeemer glorifies the human form and nature which he wore on earth. Here lay a seed of St. Paul's teaching on the spiritual body which glorified saints are to wear. Earth and heaven, the seen and the unseen world, are for ever joined and reconciled in the body in which he lived, suffered, rose, and reigns.
4. It was a revelation of exquisite Divine love and grace.
(1) Towards the persecuted. Their sorrows are the sorrows of Jesus. He makes their sufferings his own (Matthew 25:45). His exaltation and glory do not lift him out of their reach. He reigns to throw the aegis of his providence and protection over the defenseless flock of his little ones. He is the Head, and all the members are in vital union with him, and receive from the fullness of his life.
(2) Towards the persecutor. Sin in its extreme of violence and rebellion is here overthrown, and the weapons struck from the hands of the rebel - not by the tyrant's force, but by the gentleness of Divine love. "Where sin had abounded, grace did much more abound" (Romans 5:20). 'Tis hard to kick against such goads. Condemnation hardens the rebel in his opposition; gentleness melts his heart and converts him into an ally and a friend. "O Galilean, thou hast conquered!" The conversion of Saul is a type of the whole spirit and method of the gospel. Unlike the kingdoms of this world, which rest on force and must repel violence by violence, it rests on the negation of force, the eternal affirmation of love. It is strong in its weakness, and converts foes into friends by gaining the victory over the intelligence and the conscience. - J.
Parallel VersesKJV: And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,