Unit X THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS (4) CONVERSION OF SAUL OF TARSUS

image_pdfimage_print

UNIT 11 THE CONVERSION OF SAUL OF TARSUS

 

INTRODUCTION:

 

Our final argument for the resurrection of Christ lies in an appeal to the facts surrounding the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. The force of this argument lies in his manner of life in time past before he became a Christian, when he was a persecutor of Christianity. Saul’s furious zeal, the severity of his persecution of the church, and the sincere conviction that what he was doing was right, all combine to produce a personality that could not be reached by any combination of human efforts. And yet this man was reached, he converted to Christianity.

Now the abruptness of this change from self-appointed exterminator of the Christian religion to an exponent of the gospel and being a gospel preacher reveals a contrast of such extreme proportions that natural processes are totally inadequate to explain the change that took place to the conversion that happened in his life.

Will Durant in his book, Caesar and Christ, makes this very observation. He admits there was a Saul of Tarsus in history. He admits that he persecuted the church. And he admits that he converted. But he makes this observation. He says, “No one can say what natural processes underlay this pivotal experience. “ I would say that is because natural processes are totally inadequate to answer to the cause for the change that took place in this man.

 


 

LESSON AIM:

To offer evidence surrounding the conversion of a Jew named Saul from the city of Tarsus as undeniable proof that Jesus was raised from the dead.

 

LESSON PREVIEW: You will…

Investigate Paul’s manner of life before his conversion in contrast to his life after conversion.

Learn of a four-fold claim made by Paul to prove to the Galatians that his gospel was from Christ.

Discover Paul’s three-pronged argument that Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus.


PREVIEW OF THE LESSON:

We have some facts here that we need to investigate.

  1. First, there was a Nazarene who was crucified upon the cross, Jesus Christ.
  2. Saul of Tarsus was a persecutor of the Church of Christ.
  3. This Saul of Tarsus converted to Christianity.
  4. He said that he saw Jesus on the road to Damascus.

 

PAUL’S MANNER OF LIFE IN TIME PAST

We want to begin in Galatians 1: 11-14

 

Gal 1:10-14  For I make known to you, brethren, as touching the gospel which was preached by me, that it is not after man. 12 For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For ye have heard of my manner of life in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and made havoc of it: 14 and I advanced in the Jews’ religion beyond many of mine own age among my countrymen, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.(ASV)

 

Paul’s Four-Fold Claim, Gal. 1:11-13. His Gospel

  1. Was not after man (not man-made). “For I make known to you, brethren, as touching the gospel which was preached by me, that it is not after man. 12 For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ“(1:11-12).
  2. He didn’t received it from man.
  3. He was not taught it by man.
  4. He received it by divine revelation of Jesus Christ.

NOTE:

Jesus was crucified before Saul’s conversion. If we can prove to you that Jesus appeared to Saul and gave him that gospel as he claimed, then we are going to have to believe that the crucified Christ was resurrected from the grave in order to make that post-resurrection appearance.

 

Paul’s Three-Pronged Argument That Jesus Appeared To Him

After laying claim to Christ’s personal revelation of the gospel to him, Paul then begins to present the evidence in the form of a logical three-pronged argument from his past manner of life. Paul’s unique manner of life should be convincing proof that only Christ Himself could have approached the fiery persecutor with the gospel and convert him.

(Galatians 1:13 – 14) 13 For ye have heard of my manner of life in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and made havoc of it: 14 and I advanced in the Jews’ religion beyond many of mine own age among my countrymen, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

  1. He persecuted the church beyond measure. HE WAS A FANATIC!
    The evidence that Paul received the gospel from Jesus lies in the fierceness of that persecution. That phrase “beyond measure” shows the severe measure of the persecution. This description of his former life was apparently well known to the Galatians. It seems he had only to mention the three particulars in case for them to fully appreciate what he meant. Let’s look at Luke’s account of this persecuting Jew.

    1. Acts 7:58 – 8:1 – Acts 7:58 and they cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. (ASV)
      1. Men laid their garments down at the feet of Saul.
      2. He was the acknowledged leader of the persecution of the church.
    2. Acts 8:1-3 And Saul was consenting unto his death. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church which was in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 And devout men buried Stephen, and made great lamentation over him. 3 But Saul laid waste the church, entering into every house, and dragging men and women committed them to prison. (ASV)
      1. “dragging g men and women out, and committed them to prison.”
      2. Even women did not escape the fury of this man’s persecution.
    3. Acts 9:1-2 But Saul, yet breathing threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, 2 and asked of him letters to Damascus unto the synagogues, that if he found any that were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.(ASV)
      1. He gets official documents, authority to go outside the Holy Land, Palestine, to bring Christians bound to Jerusalem.
      2. He had the power of extradition.
    4. Acts 22 – 4 “ I persecuted the way unto death.”
    5. Acts 26:9 – Paul describes the anti-Christian hatred that caused him to persecute the church.

NOTE:

In his defense to King Agrippa, Paul, now a veteran of Christ for many years, recounts how he, with complete consent of conscience, shut up many of the saints in prisons, voted for their deaths, punished them even in their worship assemblies, and even strove to make them blaspheme the name of Christ (Acts 26: 9 -12). He capped off his description of the extreme measure to which he went in persecution when he related that his persecutions were carried on with  such intensity that he pushed on toward Damascus in the heat of the Eastern midday (v.13). While others rested from the heat at this time of day Saul pressed on toward his self-assigned task in Damascus.

 

 

CONCLUSION:

The question is, how do you deal with a fanatic like Saul? Of course, you cannot. (No more than you could with Osama Ben Laden) this is the very point that Paul was intending to make; that no one could have converted him, Yet he was converted. Who then converted him? Christians could not have done it, and Jews certainly would not have done it. Who then? Paul affirmed stoutly that it was Christ. But Christ was crucified . Therefore, if Christ appeared to Saul He must have been raised from the dead!

 

  1. He advanced in the Jew’s religion. HE WAS PROMINENT!
    There are at least four areas of Paul’s advancement during his pre-Christian life which can be specified from Scripture.

    1. He advanced in society among the Jewish elite. He was born a Phaisee and was outstanding as a Pharisee, Phil 3:5 circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;(ASV)
    2. He advanced as a scholar having sat at the feet of Gamaliel, whom some think was the greatest rabbi of the time, Acts 22:3 I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, at the feet of Gamaliel, instructed according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, even as ye all are this day (ASV)
    3. He advanced in power. This is seen in his exercise of his persecution against the church, Acts 9: 1- 2 But Saul, yet breathing threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, 2 and asked of him letters to Damascus unto the synagogues, that if he found any that were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. (ASV) and Acts 26:12 Whereupon as I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests,(ASV)
    4. He advanced financially. He was able to support the police force which had to accompany his efforts. He had, at least, the ancient equivalent of a modern expense account.

 

Saul of Tarsus was what some would call a success. Beyond a doubt he was a prominent person among the Jews. His reputation even preceded him to the Gentiles from time to time (cf. Acts 26:24). His prominence was outstanding.

 

What ulterior motive could brilliant young Saul of Tarsus possibly have had for becoming a Christian? What could Christians have offered him? Christianity would mean that he would be severed from all such standing and accomplishments as well as reversal of his religious convictions. Only Jesus Christ could have provided the dynamic sufficient to have converted him. But he was dead. Crucified. How could Jesus have converted him unless he had been raised from the dead as Paul affirmed?

  1. He was exceedingly zealous for the traditions of his fathers. HE WAS PREJUDICED.
  2. His fathers were the Pharisaical fathers.
  3. The traditions were their interpretations of the law of Moses. The Pharisees were famed for their conflict with Christ. It was their particular interpretation of the law which blinded them to Christ’s claims and doctrine.
  4. As a Pharisee (Pil. 3:5) Saul of Tarsus would be as prejudiced against Christ as his fathers.”
  5. Prejudice does not always preclude honesty. It is often the product of a lock of knowledge (1 Tim 1:13)

 

NOTE:

Here is a man who believed with all genuine sincerity that what he was doing was right. He was doing it in the name of his God, Jehovah. But the man had already prejudged Christianity. He was a prejudiced, prominent, fanatic.

 

CONCLUSION:

How does one convert a prejudiced, prominent fanatic? If human beings cannot, that leaves God. Saul became a Christian. He changed horses in the middle of a religious stream. The impossible happened. And it is a matter of history, not fantasy. This did really happen. But who did it? If it was Jesus who appeared to Saul and effected his conversion then he had to have been resurrected from the dead. This is what Paul affirmed. If it was not Christ, then what alternative in keeping with the historical facts can satisfy the fact of the radical reversal of Saul’s life?

 

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS CONCERNING SAUL’S CONVERSION

 

  • Was there an Ulterior Motive Back Of Saul’s Conversion?
    What motivates men to change and then to lie about it?

    • Wealth? He had that with the Jews and left it for the poverty of Christianity (cf .Acts 20:33-34; 1 Corinthians 4:11 -12)
    • Reputation? He had a reputation which was heard among kings (Acts 26:24) and renounced it to become “a fool for Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:10, 13).
    • Passion? Was there some immoral reason? Look at his character! His moral integrity was above reproach among Jews as well as Christians. Paul had many enemies after espousing the Christian religion who attacked him mercilessly, but none tried to cast reflection from the vantage point. (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:12, 1 Thessalonians 2:10)
    • Power? He had this with the Jews and left it for Christ ( See Acts 26:1 – 12).

 

NOTE::

There is no ulterior motive which can be discovered against Paul. We must conclude that when Saul of Tarsus made his “about face” he was absolutely sincere.

 

  • Was He Deceived?
    Could this have been the case? Many are sincere but deceived. The question at this point is, who deceived him? Friends or enemies? His friends would not. Saul was their champion. Christians could not; he would have been intolerant of them.
  • Was He Mad?
    This was the indictment of Festus in Acts 26:24. Others also have attempted to explain this phenomenon in psychological terms. Paul is accused of being so intense in his efforts, yet conscience stricken for his terrible deeds to Christians that he became depressed, that while on the road to Damascus he experienced too much heat; and that such combination of forces working on his fevered imagination caused him to merely think that he saw Jesus!This contrary to the whole historical record of the account of the life of Saul and his encounter with Christ. Paul was not depressed while engaged in the persecution of the saints. As a matter of fact he was quite sincere, he states, doing what he “thought he ought” to be doing in his service to God ( Acts 26:9)

 

CONCLUSION:

The only conclusion that we have is that this man who was unreachable was reached by Jesus. But Jesus was crucified upon the cross. How was it possible for him to appear to Saul on the road to Damascus unless indeed He was resurrected from the grave?

 

The articles by the Prisoners do not reflect the view of this website but are published intact as the prisoners write them, however comments are welcome