96 – The Christ Appears to Saul
Where: Road to Damascus, Syria
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In the spring of 32, the Hellenistic followers of The Way, left the Jerusalem area and moved throughout Judea, Samaria, the Decapolis, and elsewhere, and were pursued in those places by representatives of the religious authorities in Jerusalem. “This sect must be stopped.”
Philip, one of the seven Hellenistic leaders, went north from Judah to Samaria. There he began to minister. He encountered a famous magician named Simon who saw himself as a messiah. But Simon came to realize that Jesus was The Messiah, and that Philip was his representative.
By summer, the word of the success of the ministry in Samaria reached the Apostles in Jerusalem. Curious, they sent Peter and John to find out what was happening. Peter and John spent weeks with Philip, and in the end they approved of what was being done among the Hellenistic believers. Then Peter and John spent a couple of weeks proclaiming the good news to Jews on their return to Jerusalem.
But Philip was called by the Spirit to leave Samaria. By September he had journeyed south along the coast and found himself walking east, up the road that leads from Gaza to Jerusalem. It was Sunday September 22, and the first day of the week, and the day following the end of the Festival of Booths.
As Philip was walking up the road he saw a chariot pulled off, and as he was passing by he heard a voice filled with frustration. A man, who had been reading the prophet Isaiah, was wondering (out loud) what the passage could mean. Philip went to the man and offered his help. The Ethiopian eunuch was not allowed to be part of the Assembly of Israel, but was a believer anyway. He had come on this pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Festival of Booths, and was now returning home. Philip showed him how Jesus was The Messiah. The man believed, and was baptized. This act by the Ethiopian eunuch was, in itself, a fulfilling of a prophesy of Isaiah.
But while Philip was speaking to the eunuch, Saul, who had been collecting information about Hellenistic followers that had attended the Festival of Booths, went to the religious authorities to get permission to pursue the followers of “The Way” that went to Damascus, Syria to spread this “heresy”. While others would pursue the followers of “The Way” in Judea and Samaria, the letters he received allowed Saul to arrest and bring “Hellenistic Jews” back to Jerusalem for “questioning”, provided he had the approval of the authorities that ruled Damascus.
Saul immediately gathered some companions for the trip, and leaving on the morning of Monday, September 23, they traveled from 6 am to noon, took a two-hour rest, then traveled from 2 pm to 6 pm and covered an average of 30 miles each day. They expected to arrive in Damascus, 130 miles away, some time Friday morning (plenty of time before the Sabbath began on Friday evening).
On Thursday September 26, with 90 miles covered in three days, they got up and were on the road [today] again. They had traveled for five hours (about 15 miles) when suddenly an extremely bright light surrounded Saul and his companions, like a spotlight. All dropped to the ground but Saul knew that he had been blinded.
There was a loud sound. Then everyone, except Saul, got to his feet. Saul had heard his name called loudly, in order to get his attention. Saul settled down to listen. Then in a “matter-of-fact” voice Saul heard his name again. ‘Saul, why are you “out to get me?”‘ he heard, but his companions only heard a noise. ‘It hurts you to oppose God’, the voice said.
‘Who are you?’ Saul’s companions heard him say. But they saw no one but Saul. ‘I am the Jesus of Nazareth who’s followers you are pursuing’, said the voice.
Saul responded, ‘What do you want of me?’
The voice said, ‘I want you to get up and go into Damascus. Think about what you have been doing. You will tell others what you know and you will open the eyes of the blind so that they may see that I am The Messiah.’
So Saul got up and his companions led him toward Damascus for another four hours (till dusk on Thursday). But their speed was greatly reduced because of Saul’s blindness and they were only able to cover about ten miles.
Then on Friday they traveled all day just to cover the remaining 15 miles. And they arrived in Damascus just before the Sabbath began at 6 pm.
In Damascus, Saul’s eyes would be opened and he, as a new person called Paul, would “see” that Jesus was The Messiah and that Jesus is the Living Christ.
No questions have been asked yet.