Zealous, brutal, and loyal to his religious heritage—this was how the book of Acts introduced the man called Saul of Tarsus who quietly approved of and watched the death of Christianity’s first martyr, Stephen. The death of Stephen and the persecution that followed was a blow to the community of believers and it pushed many others to leave Jerusalem for the surrounding towns. Saul, meanwhile, started the search for the members of this new movement with the intent of imprisoning them. The conversion of Saul is recorded on the Bible Timeline Poster around 34 AD.
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Christianity continued to spread despite the threats of imprisonment and death the believers were subjected to. The Way (as it was then called) had reached beyond Jerusalem into Samaria, the Palestinian cities of Gaza and Ascalon, as well as the coastal city of Caesarea (Acts 8). By the time Saul intensified his efforts in the persecution, the word about Jesus Christ had spread to the Syrian city of Damascus. He asked the high priest for an authorization letter to the synagogue in Damascus so he could bring back the new converts to Jerusalem as prisoners.
As he neared the city of Damascus, a blinding light from heaven flashed around him and Saul fell to the ground. A voice called out his name and asked why he had persecuted him, which Saul answered with another question, “Who are you, Lord?” To his amazement, it was Jesus himself who called out to Saul and surprisingly, he was told to continue to Damascus where he would be told what to do next. He rose as a blind man after this encounter. He had to be led to the city by his companions. For three days, Saul did not eat nor drink, and he languished in the city—blind and helpless.
A man who lived in another part of Damascus was commanded by the Lord to go to Judas’ house on Straight Street, look for a blind man called Saul, and place his hands on the afflicted to restore his sight. The man was Ananias, and he was understandably hesitant; Saul of Tarsus was known as a man who was unflinching in his goal of stamping out the new followers of Christ. Ananias knew this. So why would Jesus send him now to his own “executioner”?
But the Lord told Ananias to go just the same as Saul would be the instrument with which the name of Jesus would be known by the “Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” (Acts 9:15) Ananias obeyed the Lord and went to the house on Straight Street to minister to a former enemy. Saul’s eyesight was restored after “something like scales fell from his eyes.” Now that he was whole again, Saul chose to be baptized and regained his strength for several days before he set off to the synagogue—not on a quest to purge the followers of Christ, but to preach about Jesus of Nazareth.
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