[K:NWTS 2/2 (Sep 1987) 21-28]
Light shined on the Damascus Road. Brilliant light broke forth; light from the realms of glory burst upon the midday hour; light ineffable, light effulgent, light from the light-maker. And the light shined in the darkness.
Darkness walked upon the Damascus Road. Black darkness, deep darkness, darkness full of dread and chaos; darkness blinded, darkness from the prince of darkness.
Let there be light!
And from that light comes darkness; eye-blind darkness. What darkness this is! Marvellous darkness, wonderful darkness! Darkness which turns to light. By means of light–through the light–out of the light, comes darkness. Darkness before the dawn; dark night of the soul about to awaken with the coming of the light; dark blindness which is eyesight for the first time. Light of glory drives out the darkness. Light-maker shines upon the darkness.
Let there be sight!
He who was present in the beginning is present on the Damascus Road. He who was there at the creation is there at midday. And he says, "Let there be light!" He who was present in the beginning is present on the Damascus Road. He who was there at the creation is there at midday. And he says, "Behold a new creation!"
There is creation imagery here because there is a new beginning here. The act of God on the Damascus Road is nothing less than a new creation. A new creation which reverses the old man; a new creation which transforms the old man into the new man in Christ Jesus. Saul experiences transformation; Saul becomes a new creature; Saul experiences the death of the old man; Paul experiences the birth of the new man.
The eyesight which guides him on the desert path must be reversed; he must be turned back to darkness. Turned back to darkness in order to see–yes, at last, to see; see for the first time. Circumcised the eighth day–darkness! Of the nation of Israel–darkness! Of the tribe of Benjamin–darkness! A Hebrew of the Hebrews–darkness! Regarding the righteousness of the law blameless–darkness! Confidence in the flesh–darkness!
Into that inky darkness, the light shines. Not a glimmer; not a flicker; not a solitary ray: the full splendor of the light of glory bursts forth more brilliant than the sun at high noon. Break forth O beauteous light. The eyes–sightless; the corneas–glazed. But day dawns within the soul; sunrise for the first time. Out of the darkness–light! And the transformation is complete; the reversal is reversed.
Sight to blindness
Darkness to light
Light out of darkness
Blindness to sight
Ananias opens Saul's eyes, but he has already seen the light. Behold, a newborn son of the light; indeed, behold, a new creation.
Life appeared on the Damascus Road. Life incarnate; life disentombed; life resurrected. Resurrection-life appeared on the Damascus Road. Life from the dead.
Death walked upon the Damascus Road. Death breathing out itself–death incarnate. Death threats, death wishes, death edicts, death indictments.
And death met life–and death died! Saul, Saul, look upon me. Behold, life not death. Saul, Saul, look upon me! Behold, resurrection-life not a shroud of grave cloths. Saul, Saul, look upon me! Behold, acquittal–not accursed. Saul, Saul, look upon me!
And Saul sees! Saul sees the resurrection face to face. Saul of Tarsus, Pharisee, looks upon the resurrection from the dead. Saul of Tarsus, Pharisee, looks upon the first-born from the dead. Saul of Tarsus, Pharisee, looks upon the firstfruits of them that sleep. Saul of Tarsus, Pharisee, looks upon the justified. Saul of Tarsus, Pharisee, can be Pharisee Saul of Tarsus no more! The end of the age has come upon him and he has been translated out of death into life.
The resurrection of the dead was the turning point. The turning point between the present age and the age to come: the turning point was marked by resurrection. Pharisee Saul had been trained to look for the resurrection of the dead as the mark of transition–the transition to the end of the age. The Pharisee longed for the appearance of the Messianic era and the resurrection from the dead at the end of the world. But on the Damascus Road, Saul of Tarsus, Pharisee, looks full into the glorious face of resurrection. It is the risen Messiah who meets him. On the Damascus Road two thousand years ago, resurrection appeared and a Jewish Pharisee became a Christian.
The transformation of unbelieving Saul is found in the resurrection apocalyptic. J. Christian Beker of Princeton is right this far–Paul's gospel begins in apocalyptic. But another Princetonian long before Beker recognized that–Geerhardus Vos called it the Pauline eschatology. It is this encounter with the risen Christ which transforms Saul. It is this resurrection apocalypse–this Christophany–which brings about the great reversal from death to life.
I have suggested that the transformation in Saul the Pharisee may be found in the eschatological transformation which occurred in the resurrection of Christ. The eschatological meaning of the resurrection apocalypse makes it clear that the end of the age has come forward. If Christ be risen from the dead, the eschaton breaks in! And Saul has seen its glory.
Others have suggested that the change in Paul may be traced to a religious experience. He was prone to mental visions, you see, and he experienced a vision of Jesus. It was actually an hallucination created by a conscience burdened with remorse–remorse for treating Christians so mercilessly. Others have suggested that Paul's transformation may be traced to his moralistic fervor. From his youth, Paul was taught to keep the law. He tried. Oh, how he tried! But he could not. On the other hand, Christians seemed to have a righteousness apart from the law. Torn between the two, Paul finally gave in to Christianity on the Damascus Road. Still others have argued that contextual factors produced the change in Paul. The members of the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule (history of religions school) maintain that Hellenistic or Jewish cultural factors finally triumphed on the Road to Damascus and Paul converted.
No! hallucinations do not produce a theology anchored in a new creation. The new creation is a pivotal aspect of the Pauline theology; pivotal because Paul felt it. At a real place in history, at a real time in history, a real historical change occurred in Saul of Tarsus because the Lord of the new creation really appeared to him and transformed him. Paul was made a new creation by the very person who brings the new creation to history.
No! moralism and cultural factors do not produce a theology rooted in the dawning of the resurrection-age. The age of resurrection had arrived, right before his eyes. What Paul had formerly dismissed as preposterous because it was to be delayed until the last day of history–that was now a reality in the midst of history. Paul experienced resurrection now! Before the last day, here and now, resurrection appears to him. The Messianic era of life for the dead has begun. And Saul–Saul the Pharisee–who had been dead in trespasses and sins; Saul is seized by the resurrected Jesus and raised up together with him. Paul had experienced the resurrection; on the Damascus Road, he had been raised from death to life. Saul's living death is behind him: the persecution, the blood-letting, the threats, the indictments, the hatred–all these are put to death. Nailed to death; buried to death. Saul the Pharisee dies on the Damascus Road. Jesus puts him to death. And he who is the firstfruits of the dead raises up Saul. He who brings the age of resurrection brings Saul into that age and Saul lives. "When we were dead in transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ . . . and raised us up with him . . ."
The Servant of the Lord appeared on the Damascus Road. The bond-slave of God breaks forth on the Damascus Road. The one called from his mother's womb; the one named while he was in his mother's belly–this one appears on the Damascus Road, Ebed Yahweh–light to the nations; salvation to the ends of the earth. The Servant of the Lord appears on the Damascus Road and he is salvation to the Gentiles.
The servant of Satan walked on the Damascus Road. Bond-slave of the prince of darkness; drudge of the Devil–enthralled with enmity, murder, cursing, bloodshed. Commissioned with the ministry of death.
The servant of Satan walked on the Damascus Road and the Servant of the Lord met him and Satan fled. The bond-slave of that dark prince was emancipated. He became indentured to a new lord, to a new master, to a new Dominus. From henceforth, Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, enthralled with joy, peace, love . . .
The transformation in servitude is complete–the reversal is reversed. The great eschatological Servant of the Lord transforms this Pharisee to become his servant. From his mother's womb, he has called him; now in the fullness of time (yea, begotten out of due time), he commissions him. The Servant of the Lord sends his servant to the nations–to the Gentiles. And this Pharisee, now become apostle, goes forth as light to the Gentiles. A commission of life and immortality brought to light through his gospel.
The great Isaianic Servant of the Lord reproduces his mission in his bond-slave. Paul is sent forth a servant of the Servant, conformed unto his glorious mission to translate those who dwell in darkness out of that kingdom into the glorious light of the gospel of God our Savior. Paul can use the language of the Servant Songs to describe his own ministry because he has become an imitator of Christ Jesus. His life is so identified with Christ that he too is ebed Yahweh!
For Saul of Tarsus, Pharisee, the road to Damascus is a new creation; the dawn of the age of resurrection; the indenture of the servant of the Lord commissioned as the light to the Gentiles.
But where is your application, you ask? Did you miss it? Did you not sense the invitation of the Holy Spirit to feel the power of the Pauline theology? Have you been so conditioned by modern preaching that you cannot find your life in the text of the Word of God? Have you been so conditioned by the demand to extract something from the Scriptures for yourself (how selfish that is! how completely self-centered and man-centered that is!) that you cannot find your life in the text of the Word of God? Have you been so conditioned by contemporary self-centered, man-centered preaching that it is not Christ in whom you find your life, but in the program, in the agenda, in the activity–or whatever else is placed as a barrier to a Christocentric realization of the Word of God.
But in case you did miss it, let me point out once more how your life is hidden with Christ in God. The Pauline experience on the Damascus Road becomes the basis of the Pauline theology. For Pauline experience, Christ is central. For the Pauline theology, Christ is central. The Pauline theology places the new creation in Christ Jesus at the center. Paul knew it because Paul experienced it; he was made a new creature in Christ Jesus. Hence the churches grounded in Pauline preaching were churches where people experienced the new creation in Christ; where they were translated out of darkness into the light of the gospel. Their existence was in Christ–the Light of the World. And it was in that light that they walked. Our life is hid with Christ in God–the darkness has disappeared, the light has shined in our hearts to give the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
For the Pauline experience, Christ is central. For the Pauline theology, Christ is central. The Pauline theology places the resurrection of Christ at the center. Paul knew it because Paul experienced it. He was raised up together with Christ. He was put to death together with Christ in his crucifixion; and Christ made him alive from the dead by his resurrection. Hence the churches grounded in Pauline preaching were churches where people experienced the resurrection of the dead, where they were translated out of death into life by the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. Their life was in Christ–the Resurrection and the Life. And it was in that resurrection-life that they walked. Our life is hid with Christ in God. O death, where is thy sting? Resurrection has broken forth–thanks be to God!
For the Pauline experience, Christ is central. For the Pauline theology, Christ is central. The Pauline theology places the servanthood of Christ at the center. Paul knew it because Paul experienced it. He was indentured by the Servant of the Lord; he was made the bond-slave of Christ–the bond-slave of Christ for the sake of the Gentiles that they might serve the Lord. Hence the churches grounded in Pauline preaching were churches where people experienced servanthood; where they experienced conformity to the bond-service of Christ. Their life was in Christ–the Servant of the Lord, the Light of the Gentiles. And in his service, they walked reflecting his light to the nations. Our life is hid with Christ in God; he has reduced us to slavery, the slavery of serving him. There is liberty; there is freedom indeed!
In Christ, we are free at last–new creatures–raised from death to life.
Westminster Theological Seminary