UNION GROVE CHURCH OF CHRIST, CLEVELAND TN.
WHY DID JESUS APPEAR TO SAUL OF TARSUS?
There was a time in his life when Saul of Tarsus made great havoc of Godís church (Acts 8:3). He was a ringleader in persecuting the disciples of the Lord, and in that role on one occasion he set out for the city of Damascus with the intent of rounding up Jesusí followers, binding them, and taking them back to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1,2).
Of course, what Saul had no way of knowing before he embarked on that journey was that before he would reach Damascus, the Lord Jesus would appear to him on the way. You might wonder if it is accurate to say that Jesus "appeared" to Saul. Here is a portion of what Saul (Paul) later told King Agrippa about that conversation which he had with Jesus on the road to Damascus: "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose . . ." (Acts 26:14-16).
Okay, so Jesus appeared to Saul. But, are we certain that Saul actually saw Jesus? The Bible indicates that Saul was blinded by the light on that occasion (Acts 9:8,9; 22:11). Yet, it is also true that Saul saw the Christ on this occasion. Later on, when the disciples in Jerusalem were not ready to accept the fact that Saul had been converted, Barnabas stepped in "and brought him (Saul, rdc) to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way" (Acts 9:27). Just before Ananias baptized Saul, he made mention of the fact that the latter had both seen and heard the Lord (Acts 22:15).
So, Jesus appeared to Saul, and Saul saw him with his own eyes. But why? Why this special appearance? It was not for the purpose of preaching to Saul. Jesus did not personally preach to him. Rather, that task would be left to a human vessel. Remember, when Saul asked, "Lord, What wilt thou have me to do?", Jesus told him, "Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do" (Acts 9:6). It was "a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias" that preached to Saul, not Jesus (Acts 9:10).
Someone might suggest, "I think Jesus appeared to Saul in order to save him right then and there on the road to Damascus." It may very well be that people are convinced that such happened, but such thinking is not in harmony with the Bibleís message. When Ananias later met up with Saul in Damascus, Saul was not yet saved. How do we know that is the case? Because at that time (which was after Saul had already seen Jesus on the road to Damascus) Ananias told him, "And now why tarriest thou? Arise . . . and wash away thy sins . . ." (Acts 22:16). If the manís sins were "still on him," then he was not yet saved, was he? I really believe that if most people were to read only those words in Acts 22:16 that we quoted above, then they would readily admit (because it is so plain!) that Saul was not yet saved when Ananias first came to him. What is it that prevents people from accepting the entirety of the message of Acts 22:16? For some it is a built-in prejudice against the necessity of water baptism. Friends, here is Acts 22:16 without a single syllable omitted: "And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." Conclusion: Saulís sins were not washed away until he was baptized, so he was not saved on the road to Damascus. Again, Jesusí appearance to him was not for the purpose of saving him on the spot.
Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus in the miraculous way that He did in order to help make Saul qualified to serve as an apostle. Do you recall that after Jesus ascended to heaven and another man was selected to serve as an apostle in his place, that one of the qualifications for the one that would be chosen was that he must be a witness of Jesusí resurrection? (Acts 1:22). In the same way, in order for Saul to be able to serve as a genuine apostle, he, too, must see the resurrected Christ. What did Ananias tell Saul prior to the latterís baptism? "The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard" (Acts 22:14,15). It is obvious that Saul both saw and heard Jesus, and that such was necessary in order to equip him to be able to testify of our Lordís resurrection, which was required of an apostle.
Does it sound to you as if this was "a done deal," and Saul had no choice in the matter? Jesusí appearance to Saul was no guarantee that Saul would decide to become His follower. Saul heard what Jesus said to him, and he also heard the instructions of Ananias, but Saul retained his free will. He could have rejected the gospel. Thankfully, he chose instead to accept it. Yes, Jesusí appearance to Saul was a miracle, but do not forget this truth: others saw Jesusí miracles and even admitted the genuineness of them, but did not become His followers (John 11:47,48; 12:37). Again, after Saul became a disciple and then an apostle, there was no guarantee that he would remain faithful to Jesus. In case you are tempted to conclude that no apostle of Jesus who was an eyewitness to His great deeds would ever depart from him, may I remind you of an apostle known as Judas Iscariot?
We know that the Lord is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34,35). Since that is the case, then how was it fair and impartial for Him to appear in this miraculous fashion to Paul, but not appear to other people in the same manner? Remember: Jesus did not appear to Saul in order to preach to Him or to save Him on the spot. And, as we noted, Saul still could have rejected the gospel. No one forced him to obey it and then take on the apostleship. To say that God is not partial means that in matters of salvation, what He requires of one, He requires of all, and a spiritual blessing that is available to one in the Christ is available to all, regardless of their gender, nationality, skin color, etc.
It all boils down to the fact that this special appearance of the Master took place in order for Saul to both see and hear the resurrected Messiah. Such was required in order for him to be able to serve as an apostle. Saul was "a chosen vessel" (Acts 9:15), not in the sense that he was getting a special advantage in the matter of his personal salvation, but rather the Lord chose him to carry out a task, just as He had chosen Moses, Joshua, David, and others. These people were selected to fulfill a role, but all along the way they always had the choice of sticking with it or bailing out.
Do you know what would be a good idea? Why donít we read what Jesus told Saul right there on the road to Damascus? ". . . I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee" (Acts 26:15,16). Those words are helpful in understanding why Jesus revealed Himself to Saul, are they not? In the big picture of things, it was ultimately because Jesus wanted Saul to be prepared to preach the forgiveness of sins to the Gentiles (Acts 26:17-20).
Should people expect the Lord to appear to them in the same fashion that He did to Saul? No. That on-the-road-to-Damascus appearance was directly connected with qualifying Saul to serve as an apostle. The New Testament is now complete, so we do not need any modern-day apostles. In addition, since the New Testament is complete in written form, we have its credible testimony of Jesusí resurrection. The gospel is sufficient to produce faith (John 20:30,31) and powerful enough to save the soul (Romans 1:16).
No one today is "called" like Saul was. Today God communicates to us through the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14). Brothers in the Christ who decide to serve as evangelists do so, not because of some "experience" or direct message from the risen Lord, but rather because they take to heart the charge to preach the gospel to every person (Mark 16:15,16), and they desire to devote themselves to that worthy task.
Are you a Christian like Paul was? He, like all others, had to hear the gospel in order to understand what was required of him (Romans 10:17). He, like all others who have become Christians, had to believe in Jesus (Acts 16:31). He, like all others, had to repent of his past sins (Acts 17:30). He, like all others, confessed his faith in the Christ (Romans 10:10). And, he, like all others who are in the Christ, had to be immersed in water in order to get into Him (Romans 6:3,4). Following his baptism, he, like all others, was required to be steadfast and faithful in his service to the Master (1 Corinthians 15:58). Are you a Christian like Paul?
-- Roger D. Campbell