“And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?”
Saul, on his way to bind up as many Christians as he can to drag back to Jerusalem, is met by a great light from heaven.
Saul immediately falls to the earth, as do those he was with (Acts 26:14). In Acts 22 we hear Paul recounting this experience, in which Ananias mentions Paul seeing the Just One. Putting this together, we can say that it is likely that Paul here, in this light from heaven, beheld Christ in His glory.
Christ comes to Saul with glorious light, brighter than the sun. The one walking in complete darkness is dropped to the ground and awe struck by the glorious light of Christ. His light exposes every sin and will one day shine upon all men, leaving them without excuse.
This manifestation Christ’s glory is accompanied by His Word, as is often the case throughout Scripture. Jesus speaks to Saul with urgency and great concern, repeating his name, and asks Saul why he persecuted Christ Himself.
See here the intimate relationship between Jesus Christ and His chosen people. Christ so identifies with His saints that he tallies all of their persecutions to His own account.
His love is so great for His people. He associates with them in all their infirmities and promises eternal blessings to those who trust in Him and walk after Him.
The sovereign God is jealous to have his own name vindicated in all the earth.
“Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;”
“For thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:”
This jealous God has suffered in our place, borne our sins, and has risen from the dead to give us new life in Him. And this jealous God counts our sufferings for His name as His own suffering.
God’s jealousy for His name to be vindicated and glorified should bring us the utmost comfort, because our sufferings will be heaped up against those who persecute God’s people until the day of judgement, when all will be set right.
We can rest in Christ, knowing that He cares for us perfectly, associates with our sufferings, and will surely vindicate His name. It is simply our privilege to receive some of that persecution.
Jesus here highlights one of Saul’s greatest sins, his persecution of the church. Conversion starts here for Paul, as it does for all men, with a conviction of sin, a recognition of our rebellion against Almighty God.
“And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”
Saul reverently asks who speaks to him, calling the voice Lord. But he also shows that the voice is foreign to him. Note also that Paul makes no mention of an excuse for his sin of persecution. This is because Paul’s conscience has been pricked. God here is working conviction in Saul’s heart.
Saul, far from having a saving relationship with God through Christ as a Pharisee of Pharisees, does not even recognize the Shepherd’s voice.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
Jesus tells Saul it is He that speaks, and again reminds Him that the one speaking is the one he was actively persecuting. Saul’s ministry was far from honoring God.
Jesus tells Saul it is hard for him to kick against the pricks, or goads. The goad was a tool used to drive cattle along, and there was no use trying to kick against the pricks, because the result was inevitable.
Saul was setting himself in opposition to Christ and His coming kingdom. After Jesus’ resurrection, He ascended to the right hand of the Father where he received dominion over all things. To set yourself up against the kingdom of Christ is to engage in a losing battle; it is an act of utter folly. Saul could spend the rest of His days persecuting the Christian church unto death and it would do nothing to halt the victory of Christ through His church.
In short, Jesus tells Saul that he is wasting a lot of energy and resources for nothing but His own judgement.
Anyone who opposes us in our preaching or any evangelism is kicking against the pricks. They are mocking the King of Glory Himself and setting themselves up against that which Jesus purchased by His own blood. Jesus’ sure victory is our hope and comfort in the most trivial and in the most severe opposition.
Jesus, the King of glory, is our King. He is our High Priest and our Savior. So our cry is that even death has lost its sting. We are in Him, and so we glory in any and all suffering for His name sake. We count it all joy whenever we have the privilege to follow in the faithful train of Christ and His suffering servants.