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The gospel repeatedly claims that Jesus did rise from the dead and that this proves His claims to be valid. It then claims to give historical evidence for the resurrection based on the testimony of witnesses.
Deuteronomy 19:15 - The guilt or innocence of one accused of a crime was determined on the testimony of two or more witnesses. See also Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19; Hebrews 10:28.
John 8:17 - Jesus recognized this principle and used it as evidence for His claims. On the basis of this principle, the gospel offers eyewitness testimony from numerous sources that He really died and He really was alive again later.
No other major religion in the world claims that its founder arose from the dead, let alone does it offer historical evidence to validate the claim. If the evidence for the resurrection is valid, the result must establish the gospel of Christ as the one true religion.
There are numerous appearances we could consider, but several aspects make this appearance especially useful and important. Of special significance is the fact that Saul was an enemy and persecutor of the gospel.
Sometimes people wonder why Jesus appearances after His resurrection occurred in the presence of His friends - people who had known and followed Him during His lifetime. The answer is that they were the people who would be sure to recognize Him and would be willing to testify for Him regardless of the sacrifices involved.
But people may ask: Why did Jesus never appear to anyone who had not been a disciple? The answer is that He did! Saul was one of Jesus' most determined enemies. If such a person saw Jesus, surely his testimony would be especially significant.
Saul had no motive whatever to claim to see Jesus alive and every reason to deny the resurrection. But we have significant testimony to consider that demonstrates that He really did see Jesus alive. After his conversion, Saul became the apostle Paul who wrote many New Testament books.
In harmony with the principle of the testimony of witnesses, consider the following evidence that Saul really did see Jesus on the Damascus road.
Saul was an enemy of the gospel and a persecutor of the church. Based on his background, he had no possible motives to accept the gospel and every possible motive to continue to reject it. His testimony has every evidence of truth and sincerity, for he had no reason to be untruthful.
(See 1 Timothy 1:12-15; Acts 8:1-3; 9:1,2; 22:4,5; 26:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13; Philippians 3:6.)
Acts 26:9-18 (22:3-16) - Two different times Paul told others the account of his conversion Consider a summary of Paul's testimony from:
* Paul had been a Jew, strictly following the law and persecuting Christians - 22:3,4; 26:9-11.
* At noon (midday) on the road to Damascus a light from heaven shone around him, brighter than the noon sun - 22:6; 26:12,13.
* He heard a voice asking (in Hebrew) why Saul was persecuting Him - 22:7; 26:14.
* Saul spoke to the speaker and asked Him questions, which the speaker answered - 22:8,10; 26:14,15.
* The speaker specifically identified Himself as Jesus of Nazareth, the One Saul had been persecuting - 22:8; 26:15.
* Those with Saul saw the light, but did not understand the words spoken (NASB) - 22:9.
* Jesus stated that He had appeared to Saul (therefore, Saul did see Him) to make him both a minister and a witness. He was to preach to people how they could receive forgiveness of sins - 26:16-18.
* The light struck Saul blind - 22:11.
* Ananias came to restore Saul's sight, to further instruct him, and to command him to be baptized - 22:12-16 (We will further consider Ananias' testimony later.)
* Saul did preach the gospel, witnessing to all that Christ did suffer and arose from the dead - 26:22,23.
So Paul's own testimony claims specifically that he both saw and heard Jesus, as well as speaking to Him. This occurred to qualify Paul as an eyewitness, which was an essential requirement in order for one to be an apostle (Acts 1:21,22). This means that Saul was a "witness" in the same sense as the other apostles: he was able to tell people that he had personally seen Jesus alive after His death.
By rhetorical question, Paul claimed that he was an apostle and that he had seen Jesus, as must be the case for all apostles.
After stating that Jesus had died, been buried, and arose again, Paul lists various people who saw Him after His resurrection. In each case, he says that Jesus was "seen" by these people: Peter, the apostles, etc.
At the end of the list he claims that Jesus was "seen" last of all by Paul himself. "Seen" must mean the same in all these cases. So Paul physically saw Jesus alive after His resurrection as surely as did these other witnesses. The purpose was to qualify Paul to be a witness of Jesus' resurrection, just as all apostles must be.
Note vv 14,15 - If Christ has not been raised, then Paul and the other apostles would be false witnesses, because they testified that he did arise. Again, Paul places himself alongside other eyewitnesses of the resurrection and specifically denied that they were false witnesses.
After his conversion, Saul became known as the Apostle Paul. He repeatedly claimed, in nearly every letter he wrote, that he had been chosen by the Lord to be an apostle. He further claimed that he was not in any way inferior to the other apostles. Since apostles had to be eyewitnesses of Christ after His resurrection, every time Paul claimed to be an apostle, he was necessarily claiming to be an eyewitness of the resurrection. (See Romans 1:1, 1 Corinthians 1:1; etc.)
There can be no doubt that Paul claimed to be an eyewitness that Christ was alive again after He died. And remember that Saul's background and the sacrifices he made for the cause of Christ would have given him no reason whatever to make such a claim unless he was totally convinced it was true.
Luke wrote his books (Luke and Acts) from the perspective of an historian so people could know the historical facts that would convince them regarding the events of the Life of Christ and the work of the apostles (Luke 1:1-4). His reputation as an accurate historian is well established.
In addition, Luke was a traveling companion of Paul, so he would have personally heard the accounts of Paul's conversion and miracles from those who were directly involved and witnessed them.
Luke records Jesus' appearance to Saul three times: Acts 9:1-9; 22:4-15; 26:9-18. Two of these are speeches in which Paul told others about his conversion, which we have already considered. Here let us consider Luke's account recorded in Acts 9 - the account he records as an historian, not part of any speech given by Paul.
* On the road to Damascus, a light from heaven shone around Saul (v3)
* A voice from heaven spoke to Saul rebuking him for his persecutions (v4).
* Saul spoke to the speaker, who answered his questions (vv 5,6)
* The speaker identified Himself directly as being Jesus (v5)
* The men, who were traveling with Saul, heard a voice but saw no one (v7).
* After the vision, Saul could not see and remained three days without sight (vv 8,9).
* God then sent a Christian named Ananias to give Saul back his sight, to baptize him, and tell him what the Lord expected of him (vv 10-19). (Again, we will study further about Ananias' involvement later.)
Luke does not here directly state that Saul saw Jesus (though he does record this in other accounts). But he does state that a light from heaven shown around Saul, that Jesus spoke to Saul and Saul spoke to Jesus, that Saul was struck blind, and that Ananias was sent to restore his sight and to baptize and further teach him.
On all the above points, as a respected historian, Luke specifically confirms Paul's testimony.
Jesus' appearance to Paul was accompanied by several miracles in addition to the appearance of Jesus Himself. Each of these events must be accounted for in some way.
Hebrews 2:3,4 - The purpose of New Testament miracles was to confirm the truthfulness of those who heard and spoke Jesus' message (see further on Paul's miracles below). These miracles that accompanied Jesus' appearance to Saul served specifically to confirm the testimony of Saul that Jesus did appear to him.
Consider the following miracles:
Acts 26:13 (9:3; 22:6,9) - All three accounts we have studied confirm the occurrence of the light. Note the following facts:
* The light appeared at noon
* It occurred openly on a public highway
* The light was brighter than the midday sun.
* Saul's traveling companions also saw the light (22:9).
* The light struck Paul blind (see further notes later).
How could any light at noon along a public road be brighter than the sun? How could any such light be faked in such a way as to fool Saul and his traveling companions, especially with the kind of lights available in the first century (such as candles, etc.)?
The only explanation for such a light must be a miracle that occurred by Divine, supernatural power. But what purpose would such a miracle have except to confirm Paul's claim that he saw Jesus?
Acts 9:4-7 (22:7-10; 26:14-18) - All three accounts record that a voice spoke to Saul. Note what is specifically stated:
* A voice spoke to Saul.
* Saul responded to the voice
* The voice answered Saul's questions (indicating that someone heard his questions, understood them, and replied to them).
* Saul's traveling companions also heard the voice. And they surely heard Saul speak to the voice. Acts 9:7 says the men "heard" (GK 'font-family:Symbol'>akouw) the "voice" (Gk 'font-family:Symbol'>fonh). In 22:9 we are told they heard not the voice [the same Greek words are used but in a different form - see Vine below]. NASB translates 9:7 as "hearing the voice" - ftnt. "or sound"; on 22:9 it has "did not understand the voice" - ftnt. "or hear (with comprehension."
[Vine comments: "...in Acts 9:7 ... the noun 'voice' is in the partitive genitive case [i.e., hearing (something) of], whereas in 22:9, the construction is with the accusative. This removes the idea of any contradiction. The former indicates a hearing of the sound, the latter indicates the meaning or message of the voice (this they did not hear). 'The former denotes the sensational perception, the latter (the accusative case) the thing perceived' (Cramer)" - Vine on "hear."]
Again, how can such a voice along a public road be explained? Remember that the voice not only spoke to Saul but heard when he spoke and responded to his questions. How could that be faked, especially in the first century?
The only explanation for such a voice is that it was a miracle that occurred by Divine supernatural power. The only purpose for such a miracle would be to confirm Saul's claim regarding what he saw.
Acts 22:11-13 (9:8,9,17,18) - Perhaps the most important of these accompanying miracles was Saul's blindness. This is mentioned in two of the accounts. Note specifically what happened:
* The vision that Saul saw struck him blind.
* As a result he had to be led into the city.
* He remained blind for three days (9:9).
* Ananias came saying he was sent to restore Saul's sight; when he laid hands on Saul, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes and he could immediately see (9:12,17,18).
Note that this was actually two miracles. First, Saul was miraculously struck blind, then he was miraculously and immediately healed at the very time Ananias said he would be.
How could such events be faked? What explanation could such events have except that they were miracles accomplished by Divine supernatural power?
What possible purpose could the blindness and healing have? The only sensible explanation is that they served to confirm to Saul and to others that he had really seen the vision and that Ananias was the one who would tell Saul what he needed to do to be saved. If anyone doubted that Saul saw Jesus as he claimed, there was the blindness as a continuing proof.
Finally, note the inherent connection between these three miracles: Saul was struck blind by the light when he heard the voice. Any one of these events would be miraculous of itself, but how could all three happen together by any human power?
The only sensible explanation for these events is that they occurred by the power of God to confirm the evidence that Saul really did see Jesus.
Other people besides Saul knew about Jesus' appearance to Saul. As an historian, Luke records the evidence given by these other people. If Saul had lied about the event, others could hve been consulted regarding what happened.
The accounts all state that other men (plural - exact number not stated) were with Paul when Jesus appeared to him. These men did not actually see Jesus (9:7), since God did not intend for them to be apostles to serve as eyewitnesses. But note what these men did witness:
22:9 - Those who were with Saul saw the light and were afraid. What was there to fear unless they witnessed something overwhelmingly unusual?
26:13,14 - At midday the light shone around Saul and "those who journeyed with" him. So they all fell to the ground. Why would the other men fall to the ground unless they had witnessed something fearful?
Acts 9:7 - The men with Saul heard the voice (though they did not understand the words - 22:9) but saw no one. They also doubtless could hear what Saul said in response to the voice. [See notes above regarding Saul's statement that they did not hear the voice - 22:9.]
9:8; 22:11 - Those who were with Saul led him by the hand into Damascus, because he could not see.
The vision was primarily for the benefit of Saul, since he was the only one to become an apostle and eyewitness. But since those who were with him saw the light, heard the voice, and witnessed his blindness, this confirmed that the event occurred and specifically confirmed all the accompanying miracles.
Anyone who doubted Paul's claim could go ask these other men what happened. Surely if those men consistently denied Saul's claim, he could not have convinced others it was true.
When Jesus appeared to him, Saul had asked what the Lord wanted him to do. Jesus said to go into the city and he would be told what was appointed for him to do (22:10). In the city he saw a vision of a man named Ananias coming to restore his sight (9:12). Besides Saul and Luke, Ananias was one of the most important witnesses to these events.
Ananias was a disciple in Damascus (9:10). Paul said he was a devout man having a good testimony of the Jews (22:12). He was not a man of poor or even doubtful character. He was known and respected. What reason would such a man have to give a false report?
The Lord appeared to Ananias and told him to go to Saul, who was waiting for a man named Ananias to come to him to restore his sight (9:12).
Ananias objected because he knew how Saul had persecuted and harmed many Christians and had come to Damascus to do the same (9:13,14). The Lord told Ananias to go anyway, because Jesus had chosen Saul to carry His name to many and to suffer for His cause (9:15,16).
Note that Ananias knew Saul's history and would never himself have initiated the idea of going to Saul. Only a direct revelation from God that Saul had been converted would have motivated him to go visit such a dangerous person. The very fact Ananias went confirms that he really did receive a revelation that Saul had been converted.
When Ananias arrived, he laid hands on Saul to give him back his sight (9:17,18).
He confirmed that Jesus had appeared to Saul on the road and had sent Ananias so Saul could receive his sight again and be filled with the Holy Spirit (9:17). He said God had chosen Saul to know His will and to see the Just One (Jesus) and hear a voice from His mouth (22:14). He would be a witness to all men of what he had seen and heard (22:15).
Scales fell from Saul's eyes so he could see again and he was immediately baptized (9:18; 22:13,16).
So Ananias becomes another witness of Jesus' appearance to Saul. The revelation he received constitutes another miraculous proof confirming Saul's claims. Ananias said that Jesus had "appeared" to Saul and that Saul was a "chosen vessel" to see Jesus and hear his voice, so he could be a witness (as an apostle) of all that he had seen and heard.
Here is another witness who directly confirms personal evidence that Jesus had appeared to Saul. He was an honest man who had absolutely no reason to give false testimony. How can the testimony of Ananias be explained on any grounds except that Jesus really did appear to Saul?
On several occasions other inspired men in the early church recognized that Saul's claims were true.
Saul eventually went to Jerusalem and sought to work with the church there, but the disciples feared him because they were not convinced he had been converted.
Barnabas took Saul to the apostles and told them that Saul had seen Jesus on the road to Damascus and Jesus had spoken to him. As a result, Saul was accepted by the church.
Exactly how Barnabas knew these facts is not stated. However, Barnabas himself was a prophet and was later called by the Holy Spirit to work with Paul to spread the gospel (13:1-3). He worked with Paul in the church in Antioch (11:22-26) and accompanied Paul on a number of projects including Paul's first missionary journey. He would never have accepted and accompanied Saul if he had any doubts about Jesus' appearance to Saul.
Furthermore, the apostles were all inspired. If Paul was lying or was himself deceived, they would never have accepted him as a Christian, let alone as an apostle. Yet they did accept him. And note that Barnabas' statement to the apostles regarding Saul expressly stated, not just that Saul had been converted, but that he had seen Jesus and Jesus had spoken to him. He expressly affirmed Jesus' appearance to Saul.
Later, a question arose about the necessity of observing circumcision and the Old Testament. Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles and elders about this.
The result was that the apostles and elders agreed with what Paul and Barnabas taught. They wrote a letter and sent prophets with the letter to confirm this conclusion. The letter praised Barnabas and Paul as beloved men who had risked their lives for Christ (Acts 15:25-27).
Galatians 2:7-9 - The leaders in the church in Jerusalem, including Peter and John, gave Paul the right hand of fellowship.
Surely the apostles knew that Paul claimed to be an apostle who had seen Jesus. If his claims were false or even doubtful, they would never have fellowshiped him. The fact they accepted Paul and defended him to others proves without doubt that these inspired men believed Jesus really did appear to him.
Peter knew about Paul's letters. He referred to him as "our beloved brother Paul" and endorsed his letters alongside other "Scripture."
But we have seen that Paul's letters claimed that Jesus had appeared to him and that as a result he was qualified to be an apostle. Surely Peter would never have endorsed Paul's letters and recognized their authority if he had any doubts that his claims were true. Yet he not only endorsed Paul's letters but commended them to others as Scripture.
So here we have several instances in which inspired men of the first century who, of all people, ought to have known if Paul's claims were false. Yet without exception they endorsed and commended him and his work. Ananias and Barnabas directly stated that Jesus had appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus. The inspired apostles accepted him and endorsed him. All these men serve as witnesses that Saul really had seen Jesus.
The purpose of miracles was to confirm the message of one who claimed to speak for God. See Mark 16:20; John 5:36; 20:30,31; Acts 2:22; 14:3; Hebrews 2:3,4; 1 Kings 18:36-39; Exodus 4:1-9; 7:3-5; 14:30,31.
If Paul did miracles, this would confirm his message. But his message included his testimony that he had seen Jesus alive after His resurrection, thereby qualifying as an apostle.
Paul repeatedly claimed that he was an apostle, which meant he must have seen Jesus alive. He cited his miracles as evidence of his apostleship and that his teaching was truly from God. Further, Paul added that the people in Corinth had seen his miracles ("among you"). His claim would mean nothing if they had not seen the miracles.
If Paul was not truly an apostle - if his claim to have seen Jesus was not true - why would God have enabled him to do miracles? Every miracle Paul did confirmed his testimony that he had seen Jesus alive after His death.
Many of Paul's miracles are recorded in the book of Acts, which was written by Luke. Luke, Barnabas, Timothy, and others traveled with Paul on his preaching trips. They would have personally witnessed many of Paul's miracles, as well as hearing repeatedly his claim to be an apostle and his testimony that he had seen Jesus alive. If Luke's accounts were inaccurate, surely some of his traveling companions would have disputed them. Instead, all these men were involved in the miracles or witnessed them yet the continued fellowshiping Paul and his work.
Furthermore, each of Paul's miracles were witnessed by people when the occurred. Every person who acknowledged Paul's miracles was indirectly confirming his teaching, including his claim that he had seen Jesus alive.
Paul's miracles included the following:
* Elymas - Acts 13:6-12. When Elymas opposed the truth, Paul struck him blind. Note that by seeking someone to guide him, Elymas acknowledged that he really had been struck blind. If so, Paul must have done a miracle that confirmed his testimony that Jesus was alive.
* Miracles in Iconium - Acts 14:3. God bore witness to the message preached by Paul and Barnabas by granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands, but the "message" included the claim that Paul had seen Jesus.
* Lame man - Acts 14:8-10. In Lystra Paul healed a lame man who had never walked. The people of the city acknowledged the miracle by seeking (improperly) to worship Paul.
* Demon-possessed girl - Acts 16:16-19. As an eyewitness ("we"), Luke records that Paul cast a demon out of a girl who had brought gain to her masters by fortune-telling. After the demon was cast out, the masters could no longer make money off her, so they persecuted Paul. By dragging Paul before the magistrates, the masters admitted the demon was gone (why be upset if the girl still had her power?).
* Earthquake in Philippian jail - Acts 16:23-34. Paul and Silas were imprisoned and fastened in stocks. An earthquake opened the doors and released everyone's chains, but no one left. Surely an earthquake that opens doors and loosens chains is no normal earthquake. The jailer acknowledged the event by asking what to do to be saved and by obeying the gospel with his house.
* Miracles in Ephesus - Acts 19:11-17. Paul did unusual miracles in Ephesus. People were even healed when handkerchiefs or aprons were brought to them from Paul.
* Eutychus - Acts 20:9-12. As Paul preached in Troas, Eutychus fell out a third-story window and was killed. Paul restored him to life. The people were comforted, thereby acknowledging the miracle.
* Miracles on Malta - Acts 28:2-10. Shipwrecked on the island of Malta, Paul was bitten by a viper but shook the snake off and was not harmed. He then healed the father of the chief man of the island (who had fever and dysentery) and everyone on the island came and he healed them.
So the purpose of miracles was to confirm that a man was preaching a true message from God. Paul did many miracles to confirm his message, but his message included that he had seen Jesus on the road to Damascus and was therefore qualified to be an apostle. His miracles become another witness that these claims are true; and every person who acknowledged his miracles becomes a witness to us that Paul did preach the truth, including when he preached that he had seen Jesus alive again.
Before his conversion Saul was a prominent Jew and an enemy of the gospel.
Philippians 3:4-6; Acts 22:3; 26:5; Galatians 1:14 - He was born in Tarsus of the tribe of Benjamin, trained by Gamaliel according to the strict sect of the Pharisees. He advanced in Judaism beyond many in his nation, being exceedingly zealous for the traditions of the fathers, blameless according to the law.
Acts 8:1-3; 9:1,2; 22:19,20 - He had viciously persecuted the disciples, throwing them into prison. Having received authority from the Jewish rulers, he was traveling to Damascus to capture Christians when Jesus appeared to him. All this demonstrates that he was well known to the Jewish leaders and had their blessing on his work. [1 Timothy 1:12-15; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13; Philippians 3:6]
In short, Saul had been a zealous and devout Jew. He was well educated, prominent and influential among Jewish leaders. No doubt he had a great future among them. From an earthly view, he had nothing to gain and everything to lose by accepting the gospel. He could have had no possible ulterior motive for claiming to see Jesus.
Acts 22:10 - When Jesus spoke to him, Saul asked what the Lord wanted him to do. Jesus said to go into the city where he would be told what to do. There Saul prayed and fasted for three days waiting for instructions (9:8,11). As soon as he learned what to do, he was baptized and began preaching the gospel (9:18,20). This indicated repentance and a willingness to change his life to do what Jesus wanted.
Acts 9:16 - Jesus had warned Saul that he would suffer greatly for the gospel. This was exactly what happened. His life was repeatedly threatened so that he had to flee nearly every city where he taught.
2 Corinthians 11:23-28,32,33 - Paul summarized some of the sacrifices he made for preaching the gospel.
Philippians 3:7-9 - He made these sacrifices that he might gain Christ and receive the righteousness that come through faith in Christ.
Why would anyone suffer all that Saul did unless he was totally convinced that his message was true? All the witnesses that we have cited argue that the reason Saul changed so dramatically was that he had truly seen Jesus. How can anyone explain such a major change in Saul's life in just one day on any basis other than the explanation that he gave? Why suffer so if it was a lie?
Jesus appeared to many people after His resurrection, but the appearance of Jesus to Saul was unique. Saul had been a die-hard enemy of the gospel. Yet we have overwhelming evidence from many proofs confirming that Jesus really did appear to Saul and therefore Jesus really was raised from the dead.
What does this mean to you? We already learned that the primary purpose of miracles was to confirm a message or a messenger to be from God. The resurrection especially confirms the validity of the claims of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:14-19).
Specifically, the resurrection proves Jesus is:
Romans 1:4 - He was declared to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead.
Romans 14:9 - Jesus rose and lived again that He might be the Lord of the living and dead.
[Acts 2:32-36; Acts 17:3; Ephesians 1:20-23]
Luke 24:46,47 - It was necessary for Christ to suffer and rise and that repentance and remission of sins be preached in His name to all nations.
[Acts 13:30-39; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Romans 4:25]
Acts 17:30,31 - God has appointed a day when He will judge the world by the One whom He appointed. He gave assurance of this by raising Jesus from the dead.
If the resurrection is true, then it establishes all the claims of Jesus to be valid, including the truth of the gospel that He revealed. There are many proofs of the resurrection, but one of the greatest is His appearance to Paul. We have discussed six witnesses that testify what really happened on that Damascus road.
What will you do with the evidence? If Jesus arose, then you are lost eternally without Him and your only hope of salvation is to believe and obey Him as your Savior (Acts 4:12; John 14:6). Have you received forgiveness by His blood? Are you living a faithful live in His service?
Copyright July, 2009, David E. Pratte; www.gospelway.com
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