“The Damascus Road Experience”
The phrase “Damascus Road experience” is a phrase used to describe a dramatic conversion like the one Paul had (Acts 9:1–9; Acts 22:6–11; 26:9–20). Some people receive Christ in an instant dramatic way, while others experience a gradual quiet transformation like Nicodemus. Both experiences are genuine. And they are the work of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:2; John 3:8) given according to His will (John 20:22).
Paul’s Encounter With Christ on the Road to Damascus
Paul, named Saul, was on his way to Damascus with a letter from the high priest of the temple and the council in Jerusalem. The letter gave him power to arrest any who belonged to “the Way,” or the followers of Jesus Christ. Paul was “opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9) and in “raging fury,” he planned “threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1).
But the Lord interfered with his plans. For unexpectedly, a bright light from heaven flashed on him and his companions, causing them to fall the ground (Acts 9:3,4). The men that were with him “saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking” (Acts 22:9).
Jesus spoke to Saul, asking him, “Why do you persecute me?” (Acts 22:70). Here, the Savior identified Himself with His disciples and their sufferings. For “in all their affliction he was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9). And He affirmed that “he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye” (Zechariah 2:8). He considered what was done to His children as done to Himself (Matthew 10:40).
Then, Paul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” And Jesus answered “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). The recognition that Jesus is the Christ marked the point of Saul’s conversion, and the end of his persecuting anger. Finally, he saw what his master, Gamaliel, had before suggested to him (Acts 5:39), that to persecute Jesus and His followers was to “fight against God.” And Jesus added, “it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (Acts 26:14). This divine message suggested that Paul’s conscience had been vigorously resisting the appeals of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:1).
Paul felt deep remorse and grief for he realized the error of his ways. So, he immediately asked, “What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord answered, get up … ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do” (Acts 22:10). Paul had been blinded by the dazzling heavenly light (Acts 22:11). And this blindness proved that what he had seen was not a mere hallucination.
In deep agony, Paul “was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank” (Acts 9:9). This period was of soul searching and repentance. The Spirit of God illuminated his mind and he was able to recall the Messianic prophecies that applied to Jesus of Nazareth. And he judged his own past in the light of his new convictions.
God prepared Ananias by a vision to visit Saul. And He also prepared Saul for a visit from Ananias (Acts 9: 12). At first, Ananias was reluctant to visit Saul (Acts 9:13, 14) for he knew of the trouble the persecutor had caused and of the purpose of his mission to Damascus. But the Lord assured him that Paul was selected to proclaim the truth to the Gentiles and that he will suffer much for God (Acts 9:15, 16).
Paul’s Conversion and Ministry
Ananias laid hands on Paul and the latter was healed from blindness, filled by the Holy Spirit, and got baptized (Acts 9:15–16, 19; 22:12–16). And Ananias said to Paul, “The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard” (Acts 9:14,15; Acts 26).
The conversion of Saul is a striking evidence of the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit to convict men of sin. Paul originally had believed that Jesus of Nazareth had disregarded the law of God and had taught His disciples that it was of no effect. But after his conversion, he saw Jesus as the One who had come to save the world and uplift His Father’s law. Now, he was persuaded that Jesus was the originator of the entire Jewish system of sacrifices. In a new light, he saw that at the crucifixion type had met anti-type. And he finally, realized how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies as the Redeemer of Israel.
In His service,