Life Sketches – From Persecutor to Apostle

How much evidence do you need before you are willing to commit to a settled decision? It is said that seeing is believing. However, there is even stronger evidence than sight and sound.

Peter, James, and John saw Jesus glorified on the Mount of Transfiguration. In 2 Peter 1:16, Peter says, “We did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” Peter says, “We saw His majesty.” Not only that, he heard something. It says, “For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ ” (verse 17). They both saw Him glorified and they heard a voice that came from the Father in heaven confirming His “Sonship.”

But then, Peter says in verses 18, 19, first part, literal translation, “We heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain … we also have the prophetic word made more sure …” a more sure prophetic word, a more sure word of prophecy, more sure than what? “More sure than what we saw, and more sure than what we heard.” Scripture plainly teaches that the prophecies in this book, are more sure, they are more certain and stronger evidence than what you see and what you hear.

Peter says, “We also have the prophetic word made more sure, which you do well to take heed as unto a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (verse 19, literal translation).

Before Paul’s conversion, he had that experience as well. He was lying on the ground when he saw Jesus Christ in His glorified form and heard His voice say, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). And he said, “Lord, what do You want me to do” (verse 6, first part)? And Jesus said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and it will be shown to you what you shall do” (verse 6, last part, literal translation). And then the vision was over. Saul, trying to get up, finds that he is totally deprived of sight. The brightness of Christ’s glory had been too intense for his mortal sight, and when it was removed, the blackness of night settled upon his vision. He thought that his sudden blindness was punishment from God.

He had been a cruel persecutor of the followers of Jesus and now he finds himself groping about in darkness. His companions, in fear, amazement, and astonishment at what has happened to Saul, took him by the hand, and led him into Damascus. How different it was from what he expected. He thought he was going to enter this city to meet with ostentation, and applause, and honor, because of his position. But now, although he had come there to cause the Christians to be condemned and punished without mercy, and had determined that no Christian would escape his vigilance in entering their houses to seize the inmates and send them as prisoners to Jerusalem, how different it all was.

His world was turned upside down in a few minutes. Instead of wielding power and receiving honor, he was led as a blind man into town. He had caused many Christians to be cast into prison. Now he is effectively in prison himself. He cannot see anything. He is blind and has to be led here and there and waited upon, dependent upon the guidance of his companions.

Saul is helpless and tortured by remorse. He felt himself to be under the sentence of death, not knowing what the Lord was going to do with him. The Scripture says that he was taken to the house of a certain disciple by the name of Judas, and there he remained in solitude, studying in his mind the strange revelation that had broken up all his plans and turned his life upside down. The entire current of his life had changed suddenly. He spent there three days in total blindness.

Spending that time in repentance, reflection, and prayer, he did not eat or drink. He remembered with bitterness of mind how he had consented to the stoning of Stephen. And he remembered the evidence that he had seen in Stephen that there was a power higher than any earthly power that sustained Christ’s servant. He thought with horror of his guilt, that he was one of the ones who had consented, saying, “Stone this man.”

He had been controlled by malice and prejudice. He had closed his ears against the most striking evidence and continued in persecution of the Christian religion. At some time, every person who is a persecutor of the Christian religion must face the truth and reality. The Lord says in both the Old and New Testaments that the day is coming when every knee is going to bow down to Me, and every tongue is going to swear. Not because they will be forced to but that the evidence will be so overwhelming that they will see there is no other suitable solution, no other answer.

Saul at that time was in lonely seclusion. He had no communication with the church because they feared and avoided him; they knew what he was there for. They had been warned by believers in Jerusalem what he was coming there to do. Thus there was not any Christian who wanted to be anywhere near him. He was devoid of human sympathy as he pondered what he could do now with the Jews. He was a broken man, but he had a repentant spirit.

Notice what Jesus said in Matthew 21:44: “Whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” As Saul, about to become the apostle Paul, was thinking about it, he was astonished, as every atheist and agnostic and unbeliever will be astonished someday. He was astonished at his former blindness, that he did not see the tremendous evidence of the Messiahship of Christ. In fact, he was astonished at the blindness of the Jewish nation in general. How could they reject Jesus, the promised Messiah, when all the Old Testament scriptures were fulfilled in His life? It all was plain to him now. He had not studied the scriptures for nothing. It all came back to his mind, even though he was physically blind. And he realized that it was prejudice and unbelief, which had clouded his perceptions and prevented him from discerning Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah of prophecy.

The same is still true. People are prevented from belief by prejudice, by settled unbelief, reinforced by their friends and associates, just as was Saul of Tarsus when friends and associates convinced him that Jesus was a fraud. This wonderful conversion of Saul demonstrates in a startling manner the miraculous power that Jesus Christ has to convict the mind and heart of man. Some people might say, “Well, why doesn’t Jesus do that for everybody?” Friend, Jesus knows people’s hearts, He knows how people would respond and He is not interested in forcing someone to believe who does not want to and chooses not to. Jesus knew the struggles that the apostle Paul had had night and day with his conscience.

O, friend, are you struggling with a guilty conscience? Are you kicking against the pricks and struggling to keep from making a decision to surrender to the sovereignty of Jesus Christ in your life? Do you know that Jesus cannot be your Saviour from sin unless He is also the sovereign and Lord of your life? The apostles made this very clear. He has been made both a Lord and a Saviour. Those are the two things you must believe in regard to Jesus Christ if you are going to receive salvation. He must not only be your Saviour from sin, but He must be the Lord of your life.

Saul said to Him on the Damascus road, “Lord [in other words, Master, Sovereign, Ruler], what do You want me to do? What shall I do?” Jesus said, “Arise and go into the city, and it will be shown to you what you shall do.” And now something astonishing happened. Jesus revealed Himself to Saul for the purpose of arresting him in his mad career. He would now make from what was a most unpromising subject an instrument to bear the gospel of salvation to all the Gentiles of the world.

Saul was overwhelmed by this revelation, Jesus of Nazareth, the One that he had been opposing, the One that he had arrayed himself against, was the Redeemer of the world, and there was no other way to be saved but through Him. He was overwhelmed by his sense of guilt.

Those were torturous days for Saul of Tarsus. What disposal was going to be made of him? What was the Lord going to decide in regard to his case? He knew that he had been the leading, most relentless persecutor of the Christian church. What was going to be his penalty? What was going to be his punishment? Could he be forgiven? He repented. It says, “Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ And he said, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ So the Lord said to him, ‘Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for, behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight’ ” (Acts 9:10–12).

Ananias had heard about who this man was, and even though this was the Lord of glory speaking to him in a vision, he began to expostulate, trying to reason with the Lord. Don’t we all do that at times? The Lord tells us what to do, He knows what we need to do, but we don’t think so. We think that it could not be quite like that, surely not that, Lord.

Notice what Ananias said: “Then Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon Your name’ ” (verses 13, 14).

So often, when Jesus sends us a message, we start reasoning it out, and say, “Lord, not that. No, no. I can’t do that. Not that road, Lord, not that direction, Lord, not that decision, Lord.” So often, Jesus doesn’t give a full explanation of what He wants us to do. Look at the life of Jesus when He was here. It happened repeatedly. Jesus did not explain, and people started to try to reason it out. Lord, Why do You say not to do that? Why do You say to do this? It is human nature to enquire why, but Jesus did not reason it out. He just gave this reply to Ananias in the vision, “But the Lord said to him, ‘Go’ ” (verse 15, first part).

When the Lord says to go, we need to go. Whether or not we understand why is not the issue. Whether we understand the consequences, we have nothing to do with them. The Lord will take care of the consequences. The Lord did not show Ananias that it was going to be safe to go. He was going to visit the persecutor, the one who had come to Damascus to seize all the Christians and put them in prison. The Lord said, “You go. Just go.” “The Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake’ ” (verses 15, last part, 16).

So, Ananias went to see the blind Saul. Verses 17, 18 say, “And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.”

The apostle Paul talks about this very thing in his letters. The scales fell from his eyes and now he could see. Notice what he said in 2 Corinthians 3:12–16: “Since we have such great hope, we use great boldness of speech—unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadfastly at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were hardened. For until this day, the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless, when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.”

When you turn to the Lord you may not understand everything. You may have a veil over your eyes. You may not see anything clearly, but Paul says, the scales are going to fall from your eyes, the veil is going to be taken away. You’re going to be able to see. You’re going to start to understand what you are reading, when you read God’s word.

There are even Christians today who say they cannot understand the Old Testament, yet the Old Testament provides the foundation for the Christian church. The Christian church is built on “… the foundation,” Paul says, “… of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). When you turn to the Lord, the veil is taken away. “… the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17).

O, friend, has the veil been removed from your eyes so that you can see clearly and understand spiritual things when you read the Old and the New Testaments? Paul has promised, when you turn to the Lord, the veil will be taken away. You’ll start to see. Do you want that experience to happen to you?

(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)

Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at:, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.