Scripture records ten visitations which Paul experienced, all of which had a remarkable bearing on his ministry and his consciousness of being sent, as well as the certainty of his personal standing with God. We note these visitations as a preface to commenting on the weight of the words and decisions he made as expressed in Acts 19:21.
- Paul was actually converted by a visible divine visitation. (Acts 9:1-9;22:5-11; 26:12-20).
The Apostle Paul received several direct words from Christ Himself as recorded in the scriptures, the first precipitating his own salvation experience on the road to Damascus. There are three versions of this call in the book of Acts. In one of the accounts given by Paul himself in Acts chapter 26, it is clearly stated that he was aware of his calling from that moment that he first heard Christ speak to Him. I do not believe he could have understood all the implications and ramifications what Christ said in those first moments of confrontation with God and his destiny, but they were clearly made plain as per Acts 26:12-20, and he received this predictive, prophetic information via a face to face meeting with Jesus Christ Himself.
It was not merely an impression that Paul received, nor was it “just” a voice. Saul of Tarsus actually saw the Lord Jesus. He says so in I Corinthians 9:1. Paul informs us also, in 1 Corinthians 15:9 that he was the last in a long line of many people that saw the resurrected Saviour. The word “appeared” in I Corinthians 15:8 is the same word used by Paul in depicting the appearance of Christ to the Apostles and others after the resurrection. Make no mistake about it, Paul met Jesus Christ in a visible and audible manifestation. Most people would call that a visitation, if not, a vision.
All three accounts of Paul’s conversion state that he heard Christ’s voice saying “I am Jesus.” How far this voice was externally audible to the others is again uncertain. In the contradiction between hearing the voice (Acts 9:7) and not hearing the voice (Acts 22:9) the difference in the case (hearing the sound with the genitive, and understanding the sense with the accusative) is in harmony with ancient Greek usage. All that were present saw the light, but Jesus spoke only and directly to Saul (Acts 22:9). The claims of mass hysteria are laughable in the picture given by scripture. The whole thing was objectively seen, heard and experienced. For Paul to have seen the Saviour in the same manner as the other apostles did, as Paul claims, he would have had to have seen an objective tangible vision of Christ. The confrontation was utterly objective and external. Paul’s personal response was another thing.
Barnabas set forth fully the story of Saul’s conversion to the twelve apostles, including the description of how he had met with Jesus and talked with Him, and he also recounted Paul’s entire identification with Christ in Damascus through his full testimony in preaching. The apostles received him and recommended him to the disciples. If it doesn’t satisfy some scholars in the twenty first century, it certainly satisfied the apostles whose life could have been in danger by receiving a murderer claiming he was changed.
- Paul was immediately directed by a Prophetic Vision.
Secondly, during those first three days after Paul’s first visitation, Paul was also directed in his newly given faith and understanding by a prophetic vision. Paul says in Acts 26, that the call to follow Christ and the commission that would demand his entire life, was given by Jesus Himself: “To this end have I appeared unto you to appoint you as a minister and a witness (26:16).”
Ananias, however, the second Christian man who went by that name in the book of Acts, had a revelation from God. Not wanting to be humourously quaint, the revelation to Ananias is very revealing. God told Ananias in Acts 9:11-12, that Saul was praying. Paul had been blinded by the visitation on the Damascus Road, but even though he was blind as he prayed, he saw in a vision, as plain as day, a man called Ananias placing his hands on him and restoring his sight. God told Ananias that Paul was a chosen instrument, and that he would show him the things that he must suffer for Christ. Ananias prayed for Paul and sure enough he was healed. So within 72 hours of that initial sight of Christ, Saul of Tarsus was immersed into revelatory dealings with God. Paul must have been aware that he was saved, a particularly chosen instrument in God’s hands, and that he had a high calling from God, in Christ Jesus. All this knowledge and understanding was by vision, and revelation. The viciousness and violence of his life prior to the Damascus Road experience was so famously (or infamously) high profile amongst Christians that they had trouble in believing what had happened to him straight off. But it was all by the initiative taken by God to reveal Himself to Paul.
More next week
I have heard The Lord is making His presence felt to Muslim diehards, in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, who are being converted to Christianity. because of the reality of their experience. It is wonderful He is in control whatever man may say or do, and in grace and mercy He offers salvation to whom He will.