Saul persecutes the believers
Acts 22:3 Saul is taken to Jerusalem as a boy (see 1 on Map 21) and is taught by Gamaliel, a respected Jewish Pharisee (see Acts 5:34).
Acts 7:58 Saul looks after the coats of the men who stone Stephen to death in Jerusalem in 35AD.
Acts 8:1-3 Saul leads a violent persecution of the young Christian church in Jerusalem. He goes from house to house, dragging men and women off to prison. When believers are found guilty of what is considered to be ‘blasphemy’, Saul calls for them to be stoned to death (see Acts 26:10).
Near St Stephen's Gate, Jerusalem
Acts 26:9-11 Saul begins to persecute the Jewish followers of Jesus in foreign cities.
Acts 9:1-9 In 35AD, armed with the Jewish Sanhedrin’s authority to persecute followers of ‘The Way of Salvation’ (an early name for Christianity), Saul sets off from Jerusalem to Damascus (see 2 on Map 21).
Just before reaching Damascus, the risen Lord Jesus appears to Saul – who falls to the ground blinded. He is led by the hand into the city, and spends three days neither eating nor drinking.
Damascus is reputed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world (see Map 21). The Kingdom of Aram (Damascus) is mentioned many times in the Old Testament during the time of Elijah and Elisha (in the 8th century BC), and the Kingdom of Syria continued to pose a major threat to the northern kingdom of Israel until King Tiglath-Pilesar of Assyria captured Damascus and killed King Rezin of Syria in 731 BC (see 2 Kings16:7-9). By Roman times, Damascus was an important trading centre on the route from Egypt to Mesopotamia.
At the time of Paul’s stay in Damascus (35-38AD), the city was controlled by the Nabataean King Aretas IV (c.9BC- 40AD) (see 2 Corinthians 11:32). The Nabataean kingdom – known by the Romans as Arabia Petraea – was governed from their capital at Petra (in modern-day Jordan). Aretas had invaded the eastern territories of Judaea and defeated King Herod Antipas in 36AD after Herod had divorced Aretas’s daughter Phasaelis in favour of his brother Herod Philip’s estranged wife Herodias (see Mark 6:17-18). After the Romans had intervened in this quarrel between two of its allies, the emperor Caligula leased Damascus to the Nabataeans in order to strengthen their ties with Rome and to prevent an alliance with Rome’s enemy, the Parthians.
The Nabataean kingdom originally emerged in the 4th century BC and flourished after the collapse of the Seleucid (Greek) empire in Syria at the end of the 2nd century BC. By developing an efficient saddle for their camels and by operating a system of secret underground water cisterns, the Nabataean Arabs controlled the lucrative francincense trade across the Arabian and Negev deserts between Sheba (Yemen) and Gaza during the 1st century BC. They built their desert stronghold in the rocks at Petra to house their increasing wealth.
Visitors to modern-day Damascus in Syria can still join the bustling crowds walking along Straight Street (now called Sharia Medhat Pasha), the main east-west thoroughfare of the old Roman walled city. In the Christian Quarter in the north east of the old city, they can visit the Chapel of Ananias, built over an old cellar that is believed to be the house where Ananias visited Paul.
Straight Street, Damascus (Acts 9:11) (Bernard Gagnon)
A short distance to the south, in the Jewish Quarter, visitors can enter St Paul’s Chapel beside one of the old city gates (Bab Kisan), where it is believed that Paul escaped over the city wall in a basket after three years of preaching and teaching in Damascus. The traditional site of Paul’s encounter with the risen Lord Jesus is commemorated by a modern church 2 miles / 3 km south of the city at Kawkab. Here the old Roman road rises over a low summit and travellers would have caught their first glimpse of the city in the distance.
Ananias visits Saul
Acts 9:10-22 Ananias – a disciple living in Damascus – has a vision of the Lord Jesus who tells him to go to Saul. Ananias has heard of Saul’s reputation and objects, but the Lord says, “Go! I have chosen Saul for an important work. He must tell about me to those who are not Jews, to kings, and to the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15).
So Ananias goes to the house of Judas on Straight Street – still the main thoroughfare in the old city of Damascus today – and finds Saul. He prays that Saul will be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Immediately, Saul is changed. Something like scales fall from Saul’s eyes and he can see again. He is baptised and, on regaining his strength, he begins at once to teach in the Jewish synagogues of Damascus that Jesus is the Son of God – the promised Messiah or Christ.
Gal. 1:15-18 After several days, Paul journeys into the neighbouring desert area of Arabia Petraea – probably to seek God quietly in prayer about his future (see 3 on Map 21). He then returns to Damascus where he preaches the Good News to the Jewish community for three years.
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