Philip had already been preaching to the poor Samaritans, and John had revisited them, in company with Peter, with feelings wonderfully changed. But Saul knew nothing of the little Church of Samaritan Christians. Damascus was still the great object before him.
Besides various allusions to it in his own Epistles, three detailed narratives of the occurrence of Paul's conversion are found in the Acts. Once it is related by Luke (Acts 9) and twice by the Apostle himself (Acts 22, 26). And as, when the same thing is told in more than one of the Holy Gospels, the accounts do not verbally agree, so it is here. Luke is more brief than the apostle. And each of the statements from Paul supplies something not found in the other. At present it is our natural course simply to gather the facts from the Apostle's own words, with a careful reference to the shorter narrative given by Luke.
In Acts 22 and 26 we are told that it was "about noon" or midday, when the "great light" that would bring the conversion of Paul, was shone suddenly from heaven (Acts 22:6, 26:13). And those who have had experience of the glare of a midday sun in the East, will best understand the description of that light, which is said to have been "a light above the brightness of the sun, shining round about Paul and them that journeyed with him."
All fell to the ground in terror (Acts 26:14), or stood dumb with amazement (Acts 9:7). Suddenly surrounded by a light so terrible and incomprehensible, "they were afraid." "They heard not the voice of Him that spake to Paul" (Acts 22:9), or, if they heard a voice, "they saw no man" (Acts 9:7). The whole scene was evidently one of the utmost confusion.
But while the others were stunned, stupefied and confused, a clear light broke in terribly on the soul of one of those who were prostrated on the ground. A voice spoke articulately to him, which to the rest was a sound mysterious and indistinct. He heard what they did not hear. He saw what they did not see. To them the awful sound was without a meaning while Paul heard the voice of the Son of God.
It is evident that this revelation was not merely an inward impression made on the mind of Saul during a trance or ecstasy. It was the direct perception of the visible presence of Jesus Christ. The direct and immediate character of this call leading to conversion, without the intervention of any human agency, is another point on which Apostle Paul himself, in the course of his apostolic life, laid the utmost stress. It is one, therefore, which it is incumbent on us to notice here.
"And I (Paul) said, 'Who are You, Lord?' And He said, 'I am Jesus, Whom you are persecuting. Now arise, and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose: to appoint you as a minister and a witness both of what you have seen and what I shall reveal to you.
I am personally selecting you from among the people and the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, To open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light, and from the authority of Satan to God, so that they may receive remission of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified through faith in Me'" (Acts 26:15 - 18, HBFV)
But the full intimation of all the labors and sufferings that were before Paul was still reserved until after his conversion. He was told to arise and go into the city, and there it should be told him what it had been ordained that he should do. He arose humbled and subdued, and ready to obey whatever might be the will of Him who had spoken to him from heaven.
But when he opened his eyes, all was dark around him. The brilliancy of the vision had made Paul blind. Those who were with him saw, as before, the trees and the sky, and the road leading into Damascus. But he was in darkness, and they led him by the hand into the city.
For three days Paul's blindness continued. The conflict of his feelings was so great, and his remorse so piercing and so deep, that during this time he neither ate nor drank (Acts 9:9). He could have no communion with the Christians, for they had been terrified by the news of his approach. And the unconverted Jews could have no true sympathy with his present state of mind. He fasted and prayed in silence, awaiting what would ultimately be his conversion into a Christian.
Paul waited on God and in his blindness a vision was granted to him. Paul seemed to behold one who came in to him, and he knew by revelation that his name was Ananias, and it appeared to him that the stranger laid his hand on him, that he might receive his sight (Acts 9:12).
We know nothing concerning Ananias, except what we learn from Luke or from Paul. He was a Jew who had become a "disciple" of Christ (Acts 9:10), and he was well reputed and held to be "devout according to the Law," among "all the Jews who dwelt at Damascus" (Acts 22:12). He is never mentioned by Apostle Paul in his Epistles.
Though Ananias was not ignorant of the new convert's previous character, it seems evident that he had no personal acquaintance with him. He was not an Apostle, nor one of the conspicuous members of the Church. And it was not without a deep significance that he, who after his conversion was complete would become the most influential New Testament Christian next to Jesus, should be baptized by one of whom the Church knows nothing.
Ananias came into the house where Paul, faint and exhausted (Acts 9:19) with three days' abstinence, still remained in darkness. When he laid his hands on his head, as the vision had foretold, immediately he would be recognized as the messenger of God, even before the words were spoken. These words were followed, as were the words of Jesus Himself when He spoke to the blind, with an instantaneous dissipation of darkness. The expression of Christian love assured him of reconciliation with God.
Paul's conversion was then confirmed through baptism and the receiving of God's Holy Spirit. His body was strengthened with food and his soul was made strong to "suffer great things" for the name of Jesus, and to bear that Name "before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel" (See Acts 9:15, 16).