Saul wasn’t just slaughtering God’s people and “threatening” to kill more of them. He was “breathing out” threatenings and slaughter (9:1). What’s the difference? Breath is God’s gift (Acts 17:25), a gift that gives life (Gen. 2:7). But what you breathe out is what you do with the life God gives you. That means Saul lived to threaten and slaughter the Lord’s disciples. But after he got saved, he lived for the Lord (Phil. 1:21). You should use your breath to also! (Ps. 150:6).
Of course, Saul thought he was living for the Lord when murdering the saints (Acts 23:1). He thought they were heretics who deserved to die (John 16:2). This is another thing that made him a type of the antichrist (Dan. 8:24; Re. 13:4,7).
He probably would have become the beast if God hadn’t interrupted prophecy with the mystery. Psalm 27:12 talks about breathing out cruelty, which sounds like Saul, but we know that’s a passage about antichrist and his followers because Psalm 27:10,11 matches the Lord’s description of the Tribulation (Mark 13:12-14). This is kind of like how John the Baptist would have been Elijah if Israel had accepted the kingdom (Mal. 4:5; Mt. 11:12,14). They didn’t, so another Elijah will rise in the Tribulation.
And Saul would have been the antichrist, but now another will arise. I say all that to assure you that Antichrist won’t be doomed to be the Antichrist. It’s like how the prophets predicted someone would betray the Lord, but it didn’t have to be Judas. And the prophets also said there’d be an antichrist, but the man will likewise choose to be the antichrist.
Saul persecuted believers in Jerusalem so thoroughly they all left (Acts 8:1-3) so he got authorization to slay them in Damascus (9:1, 2). That’s another type of the antichrist. Saul got his authority from the high priest, antichrist will get his from Satan (Rev. 13:2). Saul persecuted those of “that way” (9:2), i.e., followers of the Lord Jesus (John 14:6 cf. Acts 19:9, 23).
The “light” Saul saw (9:3) was brighter than the sun (26:13). Saul knew that could only be God (cf. Ps. 104:1,2). That explains why he fell to the earth (9:4) like Ezekiel did (Ezek. 1:28). As we’ll see, the “voice” Saul heard belonged to the Lord Jesus, who didn’t ask why Saul was persecuting Him, He asked why he was killing His disciples (9:4). That’s because God takes it personally when you kill His people (Isa. 63:9; Zech. 2:8) and the Lord did too (Mt. 25:40).
So Saul knows the light is God, and he knows he’s been persecuting the followers of Christ, so he’s figuring out that the “God” he’s talking to is Christ. But he asks just to be sure (9:5). God told Moses His name was “I am” (Ex. 3:14), and now 1500 years later He gave His full name: “I am Jesus.”
“Pricks” (9:5) were the sharp goads (Jud. 3:31) Jews used to prick oxen to get them to go where they wanted. Saul knew the prophets well enough to know that their description of Israel’s Christ matched Jesus, and God used that to prick his conscience. But Saul didn’t want to believe the lowly carpenter was his Christ so he kicked against the pricks.
Men always “trembled” (9:6) before God (Hab. 3:2, 4, 16). But why was Saul also “astonished” (9:6) to learn Jesus was Christ if he’d suspected it all along? He was astonished that the Lord had spoken to him tenderly instead of in wrath as Psalm 2:5 said he would! The Lord revealed He was sending him to the Gentiles with a new message (Acts 22:15-18).
He told him to go to Damascus where Ananias would tell him what to do (9:6), but not why. Ananias told him to be baptized for salvation (22:16), but Saul was already saved on Damascus Road (Acts 9:6 cf. I Cor. 12:3). The Lord wanted him baptized so the disciples would believe he was saved (Acts 9:26,27). Saul wasn’t saved under the kingdom gospel.
Saul’s henchmen heard the voice (9:7) but not the words (22:9 cf. John 12:28, 29) for the mystery was only given to Paul.
Saul was blinded by the light of the Lord’s glory (9:8, 9 cf. 22:11). But to save a blasphemer like Saul (I Tim. 2:12, 13) God had to introduce a whole new world (Mt. 12:31, 32), a world the prophets knew nothing about—the world of the dispensation of the grace of God. The mystery (Eph. 3:1-3).
This sermon is also available on YouTube: Saul’s Threatenings and His Conversion – Acts 9:1-9