Jesus was not a well-known figure during his lifetime. His execution had been designed to quell a movement begun by his cousin John the Baptist, and few knew who he was at the time of the crucifixion, although John was already famous. Soon, Jesus’s brother James would join the list of family martyrs. It was James and his immediate followers who created the epic ministry. The New Testament is a small slice of writings about Jesus, and not even the most contemporary sources, which would include the Dead Sea Scrolls and tell a much different story.
Most of the New Testament was written by Paul and Luke, neither of whom ever met Jesus. Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles and it’s nothing like anything in the rest of the New Testament or Gnostic Gospels. But it is the main source of mythology on Paul, and paints him as the true heir to Jesus. It also employs angels and moments of theatrical magic, suggesting the author may have been a talented playwright, and what you are actually digesting is a wag-the-dog-movie. Imagine if you heard the disembodied voice of the Great One, (something guaranteed to be either a prank or a false delusion in real life). In this story this happens to two people, and their reactions are hilarious if you just think about it because they both react as if this sort of thing happens every day.
Saul was terrorizing followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, threatening to kill them. He went to the high priest and requested letters to the synagogues in Damascus. Saul wanted authority to hunt down Jesus believers in Damascus. If he found any, men or women, he’d drag them back to Jerusalem.
Saul went to Damascus. But when he got close, an extremely bright light from heaven suddenly shined around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”
Saul said, “Who are you, Lord?”
The voice answered, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Get up now and go into the city. Someone there will tell you what you must do.”
The men traveling with Saul just stood there, unable to speak. They heard the voice, but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground and opened his eyes, but he could not see. So the men with him held his hand and led him into Damascus. For three days, Saul could not see and he did not eat nor drink.
There was a follower of Jesus in Damascus named Ananias. In a vision the Lord said to him, “Ananias!”
Ananias answered, “Here I am, Lord.”
The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight Street. Find the house of Judas and ask for a man named Saul from the city of Tarsus. He is there now, praying. He has seen a vision in which a man named Ananias came and laid his hands on him so that he could see again.”
But Ananias answered, “Lord, many people have told me about this guy and he is doing bad things and terrorizing people. Now he has come here to Damascus to terrorize. The leading priests have given him the power to arrest anyone who trusts in you.”
But the Lord Jesus said to Ananias, “Go! I have chosen Saul for an important work. I want him to tell other nations, their rulers, and the people of Israel about me. I will show him all that he must suffer for me.”
So Ananias left and went to the house of Judas. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Saul, my brother, the Lord Jesus sent me. He is the one you saw on the road when you came here. He sent me so that you can see again and also be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Immediately, something that looked like fish scales fell off Saul’s eyes. He was able to see! Then he got up and was baptized. After he ate, he began to feel strong again.
Saul stayed with the followers of Jesus in Damascus for a few days. Soon he began to go to the synagogues and tell people about Jesus. He told the people, “Jesus is the Son of God!”
All the people who heard Saul were amazed. They said, “This is the same man who was in Jerusalem trying to destroy the people who trust in Jesus! And that’s why he has come here—to arrest the followers of Jesus and take them back to the leading priests.”
But Saul became more and more powerful in proving that Jesus is the Messiah. His proofs were so strong that the Jews who lived in Damascus could not argue with him.
After many days, some Jews made plans to kill Saul. They were watching the city gates day and night. They wanted to kill Saul, but he learned about their plan. One night some followers that Saul had taught helped him leave the city. They put him in a basket and lowered it down through a hole in the city wall.
Then Saul went to Jerusalem. He tried to join the group of followers, but they were all afraid of him. They did not believe that he was really a follower of Jesus. But Barnabas accepted Saul and took him to the apostles. He told them how Saul had seen the Lord on the road and how the Lord had spoken to Saul. Then he told them how boldly Saul had spoken for the Lord in Damascus.
And so Saul stayed with the followers and went all around Jerusalem speaking boldly for the Lord. He often had arguments with the Greek-speaking Jews, who began making plans to kill him. When the believers learned about this, they took Saul to Caesarea, and from there they sent him to the city of Tarsus.
The church in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had a time of peace. And with the help of the Holy Spirit, these groups of believers became stronger in faith and showed their respect for the Lord by the way they lived. So the church everywhere grew in numbers.