ACTS - CHAPTER 22
Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2001 James Melough
“Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defense which I make now unto
“(And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept
the more silence: and he saith,)”
“I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet
brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect
manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this
“And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into
prisons both men and women.”
“As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the
elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to
bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished.”
In this brief account of his
background Paul declared himself to be a Jew, born in Tarsus, but brought up in
Jerusalem, educated thoroughly by the
renowned Jewish teacher Gamaliel, in all that pertained to the Jewish law, his zeal
for that law and his hatred of the new religion called “the Way” being attested
by the vigor with which he hunted down
converts to “the Way.” As proof he
referred to the letters given him for this very purpose by the high priest and the
other leaders of Israel.
“And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and came nigh unto
Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about
That great light was the
glory of the Lord Jesus Christ shining upon him from heaven, its brilliance blinding
him physically, but enlightening his spiritually darkened mind, and revealing that
the enlightenment given by Gamaliel was but foolishness, as is all the wisdom of the
world in the sight of God.
“And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul,
why persecutest thou me?
Chapter 26, verse 14 informs
us that all in his company fell to the ground, and that the voice spoke in Hebrew.
“Why persecutest thou me” reminds us that what is done to His own is
counted by the Lord as having been done unto Him, He being the Head of that mystical
body of which we are the members, and concerning which Paul himself has written,
“Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be
honored, all the members rejoice with it,” adding, “Now ye are the body of
Christ, and members in particular,” 1 Cor 12:26-27.
“And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of
Nazareth, whom thou persecutest.”
Jesus was the Lord’s name
as Savior, and Saul in spite of all his religious knowledge and zeal, needed a
Savior, as does every man born into this world.
Nazareth means a branch: preservation, the branch being used six times
in the OT as a figure of Christ, see Isa 4:2; 11:1; Jer 23:5; 33:15; Zec 3:8; 6:12.
The One Who on earth had been the despised Jesus from equally despised
Nazareth, is the Lord of Glory, God’s fruitful Branch, and man’s gracious
Preserver. It was He Whom Saul in his
ignorance had been persecuting. What a
change was produced in Saul as he lay on the ground prostrated by the blinding glory
of the risen Christ! It is very possible
that he had seen that same Christ here on earth when He was simply Jesus of Nazareth,
the object of the haughty Pharisee’s scorn and hatred.
How different now! Awestruck,
trembling with terror, the once proud arrogant persecutor had been changed in an
instant into the fearful wretch who lay on the road wondering not what he would do
with the Christians who might fall into his hands, but rather what the Lord and Lover
of those Christians would now do to him. A
similar day is coming for everyone who dies in unbelief, the question no longer
being, What shall I do with this Jesus Whom this foolish Christian is urging me to
trust as Savior? but, What will He, the
Judge do with me? It is one thing to
despise Jesus when He is unseen: it will be another, to stand before Him at the great
white throne and hear His terrible command, “Depart - into the eternal torment of
the lake of fire.”
“And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they
heard not the voice of him that spake to me.”
Chapter 9, verse 7 tells us
that they all heard the voice. There is
no contradiction. They may have heard
the voice like thunder without recognizing it as speech.
They were afraid, but it is not recorded that they were converted.
Fear must lead to repentance and acceptance of Christ as Savior if there is to
be conversion. Felix was afraid. He
trembled, Ac 24:25, but there is nothing in Scripture to indicate that he was ever
“And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And
the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee
of all things which are appointed for thee to do.”
The obedience implied in his
question marked the rest of Paul’s life. Christ
was Lord of his life, and He should be of ours also.
“... things appointed for
thee.” Appointed is literally “everything that you will be told to
do.” It does not imply predestination.
Man, both as an unbeliever and as a believer, has a free will, and he may obey
or disobey God’s commands as he chooses, but not without consequences.
The unbeliever’s disobedience will result in his being cast into the eternal
torment of the lake of fire; that of the believer will result in the eternal loss of
reward (not of his salvation). That Paul
was free to obey or disobey is declared in Ac 26:19 where he himself, relative to the
experience described here, says, “I was not disobedient unto the heavenly
“And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand
of them that were with me, I came into Damascus.”
Damascus, meaning silent
is the sack cloth weaver, was a particularly appropriate place for Paul to come
to, for sack cloth is the emblem of repentance, sorrow, and mourning, but the silence
of the sack cloth weaver is synonymous with the end of his activity. There would be no further need of “sack cloth” in Paul’s
life, i.e., of repentance and mourning because of sin. Henceforth he could live in the enjoyment of knowing that his sins
were all forgiven, and would be remembered no more by God.
Damascus was the place where
Saul’s old disobedient life ended, and Paul’s new obedient life began.
Faith in Christ brings every believer also to “Damascus.”
The end of the old way becomes the beginning of a new and better.
What the sack cloth represents is all behind the believer.
He who up to that moment had
lived in self-will, now had to be led, and from that point on, it would be the Holy
Spirit Who would lead him. He should
lead us also.
“And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of
all the Jews which dwelt there,”
“Came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight.
And the same hour I looked up upon him.”
“... a devout man
according to the law” continues to confirm that until AD 70 believing Jews
continued to observe the Levitical ritual in addition to the Christian ordinances of
baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Saul appears to have been
lying down. This is where the obedient
life must begin. We must be willing to
occupy the lowest place before there can be promotion.
He who had been the persecutor of the Christians is now called brother.
There is a new relationship. And
it wasn’t only his physical sight that was restored: he who had formerly been
spiritually blind, could now see by the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.
“And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest
know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth.”
His having been chosen
doesn’t mean that he had been predestinated to be saved.
Salvation results from a free-will acceptance of Christ as Savior.
He was chosen according to God’s foreknowledge, see 1 Pe 1:2, “Elect according
to the foreknowledge of God”.
He who would serve
acceptably, and walk in the enjoyment of that peace which passeth understanding, must
know God’s will. It is revealed in His
Word, and can be known only as we read, meditate on, and obey that Word.
The reference to his seeing
“that Just One,” and hearing “the voice of his mouth,” certainly points to
that day anticipated by every believer when we will see the Lord face to face, and
actually hear Him speak to us; but for Paul it may have had a deeper significance.
The reference, in fact, may be to that day when he was caught up to the third
heaven “... into paradise, and heard unspeakable words,” 2 Cor 12:2-4, for it is
generally agreed that that “man in Christ” was the Apostle himself.
Some believe that this was to grant him the same experience as that of the
other Apostles, they having seen and heard the Lord after His resurrection.
“For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and
As Christ was the Father’s
witness, so was Paul to be Christ’s. Every
believer, however, is to be a witness, the Lord’s command to each one being, “Go
ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature,” Mk 16:15.
He was to testify not only to what he had heard, but also what he had seen.
What had he seen? The blinding
glory of Christ. In that light the
worthlessness of earthly things had been revealed to Paul, and he counted the best of
them but refuse. So should we.
“And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins,
calling on the name of the Lord.”
The Lord’s business is
urgent. Time is fleeting. The
day of grace is almost ended. But
activity is not to be according to our own imaginations and impelled by the energy of
the flesh. God must direct our service,
and the first step of obedience is baptism. Obedience
is like a chain. There are many links.
As one broken link renders the chain useless, so does one act of disobedience
render us useless, for God will not use an unclean vessel.
The form may be preserved after disobedience has separated us from the Holy
Spirit’s power, but the activity will be only that of the flesh, and therefore
worthless. Repentant confession is the
mode of restoration if we are to be vessels suitable for the Master’s use.
Baptism itself does not wash
away our sins. It is the outward symbol
which declares that they have already been washed away through faith in Christ’s
death and resurrection. It is the
outward evidence of the obedient faith that has brought the cleansing, our going
under the water being the symbolic confession that we have died in Christ, God
graciously imputing the Lord’s death to us; while our coming up out of the water is
the symbolic confession that we now live eternally in Christ, God imputing His
resurrection also to us, as it is written, “I am crucified with Christ:
nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me,” Ga 2:20.
“... calling on the name
of the Lord” is literally to invoke His name in seeking aid from God or in
presenting worship. In the present
instance it may have reference to his having already called on the name of the Lord
on the Damascus road.
“And it came to pass that, when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I
prayed in the temple, I was in a trance;”
This has no reference to his
present visit, but rather to what many
believe to have been his return to Jerusalem following his conversion and three year
stay in Arabia, his first as a Christian. His
praying in the temple continues to remind us that the Jewish Christians continued
legitimately to use the Levitical ritual until AD 70; and his falling into a trance
continues also to remind us that the Jewish age had not yet ended, for such phenomena
have never been for Gentile believers, nor for Jewish Christians after AD 70.
Trances were a normal part
of the means by which God communicated with Israel until AD 70, before the canon of
Scripture was complete. He does not use
that method of communication today.
“And saw him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of
Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me.”
Paul, as on the Damascus
road, both saw and heard the Lord on this occasion also.
His hurried departure from the city (for no doubt he obeyed) is reminiscent of
the equally hasty departure of Moses from Egypt the first time. And as Moses did not lead his own generation into Canaan (their
unbelief kept them out and caused them to die in the wilderness) neither did Paul
lead his own generation of the nation into the richer blessings of which Canaan’s
milk and honey are but types. In spite
of his faithful testimony, they as a nation would not believe.
As their forefathers wandered and died in the desert, so would this generation
wander and die in the wilderness of this world, while another generation, believing
Gentiles, would inherit better blessings than those forfeited by Israel’s unbelief. It is instructive to note that the time from AD 32, the date of
the crucifixion, until AD 70, the date of the dissolution of Jewish autonomy, was
thirty-eight years, the same length of time as the earlier generation of Moses’ day
wandered in the wilderness and died out while a new generation grew up to enter
Canaan. (The first two years in the
desert were not years of wandering, but rather of journeying and preparing to enter
Canaan. As a result of Israel’s
disobedience, however, they also became invested with the character of wandering, so
that the whole period of wandering was forty years).
“And I said, Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue
them that believed on thee:”
“And when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by,
and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him.”
What a transformation
conversion had wrought in Paul’s life, as it should in the life of every believer! Where transformation of the life is absent, it is questionable
whether there has been conversion.
He who had formerly
delighted in shedding the blood of the saints, was now willing to lay down his own
life for them.
Having regard to the fact
that raiment is the symbol of righteousness (the filthy rags of self-righteousness,
or the righteousness of Christ which clothes the believer), their having removed
their garments as they stoned Stephen, goes beyond the literal.
It was the outward sign that in rejecting Stephen’s witness, they were
rejecting, casting off, the righteousness they needed to fit them for the presence of
a holy God.
“And he said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the
It is interesting to note
the parallel between the experience of Moses and Paul.
As Moses was sent to the Gentiles following his rejection by his Jewish
brethren, so also was Paul.
“And they gave him audience unto this word, and then lifted up their voices,
and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should
Their refusal to admit their
guilt cut them off from blessing, for there can be no conversion and blessing apart
from confession of sin. The language is
virtually the same as that used in their rejection of Christ.
As the Lord Himself had foretold, they would treat the servant as they had the
Master, and it remains the same to this day.
“And as they cried out, and cast off their clothes, and threw dust into the
“The chief captain commanded him to be brought into the castle (barracks),
and bade that he should be examined by scourging; that he might know wherefore they
cried so against him.”
This was the frenzy of
hatred, and in it we see revealed the true state of the human heart.
Man is the inveterate enemy of God. Note
again also the removal of their garments. It
has the same significance as in the case of Stephen.
The dust thrown up would fall back upon them, but dust is one of the biblical
symbols of death. In deliberately
rejecting the Gospel, they were unwittingly invoking the sentence of death, just as
they had when condemning Christ, and saying, “His blood be upon us, and on our
children,” Mt 27:25.
The treatment accorded the
servant was virtually the same as that accorded the master, the rabble having no more
just accusation to bring against him than they had had against the Lord. With Paul, however, the scourging was not carried out.
“And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood
by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?”
An obvious question is, Why
did Paul submit to scourging and imprisonment in Philippi (Ac 16), without apparently
disclosing his Roman citizenship? One
reason suggests itself: he was led by the Spirit, because there was no other way for
the jailer to be saved. Here there was
no need to submit to scourging: nothing would induce the Jews to believe.
One practical lesson to be learned is that we are not called upon to endure
any needless hardship. The circumstances
of our lives are ordered or permitted by God, Who works them together for His own
glory and our eternal blessing.
“When the centurion heard that, he went and told the chief captain, saying,
Take heed what thou doest: for this man is a Roman.”
It is interesting to note
that Pilate was warned by his wife to have nothing to do with harming the Lord.
“Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman?
He said, Yea.”
“And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom.
And Paul said, But I was free born.”
Like the captain, many a man
who is capable of evaluating the worth of earthly things, is incapable of evaluating
the worth of those things relative to eternity.
The Roman citizenship so dearly bought had earthly value only. There can be little doubt that Paul, in declaring that his own
Roman citizenship was by birth, took the opportunity to tell that man of the need of
the new birth.
“Then straightway they departed from him which should have examined him: and
the chief captain also was afraid, after he knew that he was a Roman, and because he
had bound him.”
“On the morrow, because he would have known the certainty wherefore he was
accused of the Jews, he loosed him from his bands, and commanded the chief priests
and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down, and set him before them.”
They feared the earthly
consequences of their error, without apparently having the slightest fear of the fact
that their greater transgression was to have touched one in regard to whom the Lord
has said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren,
ye have done it unto me,” Mt 25:40. So is it with most men.
They fear man more than they do God.