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Luke described Saul’s persecution of Christians in Acts 7:57–9:2. Then, in Acts 9:5, Luke described how the Lord Jesus Christ spoke to Saul on the road to Damascus:

5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?”

Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” NKJV, 1982

  • Saul persecuted Christians.
  • The Lord Jesus Christ was in heaven at the time he spoke to Saul and did not encounter Saul while on earth (prior to his death).

Why, then, does the Lord Jesus Christ accuse Saul of persecuting him rather than his followers (i.e., Christians)? How did Saul persecute the Lord Jesus Christ?

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Jesus explains the fundamental principle at work in Acts 9:5 by means of what he says in Matthew 25:34-45 (KJV) -- specifically:

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
-- Matthew 25:40 (KJV)

That is, for those who would claim to know God, "What they do unto others, they do unto Jesus".

When Jesus says, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting...", Paul didn't offer an argument in his defense, "When did I persecute you?", because he immediately became aware that what he had done to Jesus' followers was no different to having done it to Jesus himself.

Further Comments

Paul refers to the church as being analogous to the body of Christ:

For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
-- Ephesians 5:30 (KJV)

He uses the analogy to explain that as the body consists of many different parts all working together for the benefit of the whole, so too, the church.

Paul's analogy is just a means of illustrating what Jesus said in John 17 (emphasis mine):

11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are ...
17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. 18 As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world ...
20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; 21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me ...
25 O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. 26 And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.
-- John 17:11,17-18,20,25-26 (KJV)

Jesus did not die, but continued/continues in the world in a NEW BODY -- the Church. Each believer is a cell in that body, so any attack on (persecution of) a member of the Church, is an attack on Jesus himself.

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Jesus' commandments, in difference from the Old Testament commandments, are plainly impossible for humans to fulfill, and He is not equivocal about it ("without me you can do nothing" /John 15:5/). It is impossible for humans to love as He commands, that is to say, as He loves (John 15:12); it is impossible for humans to love and forgive enemies out of all heart and sincerely (Matt 18:35) etc. But this impossibility becomes possible by His actual work in human hearts, which work and operation is called "grace".

Thus, true Christians represent a society of people who aspire at the impossible through the real presence of Christ and His operation in and between them, in such an intimate sense, that this society can be called the very body of Christ (1 Cor. 12;27) who is its head. Moreover, Christ's activity or grace in their hearts makes the impossible not only possible, but a sweetly and lightly so (Matt 11:30). Moreover, grace of Christ can never be taken from Him unawares from Him, kind of "stolen" or snatched from Him when He would not pay attention or sleep, for He is always attending and never sleeps even according to human nature (for as Logos He never slept even while on earth) after the Resurrection and Ascension; thus His grace never operates without Him personally operating, for operation of Christ's grace is always a personal operation of Christ Himself in human heart, for which reason Paul calls this operation of Christ in him (1 Col. 29) also life of Christ in him (Gal. 2:20). Therefore, if one, like the same Paul before his conversion, persecutes Christians for being and acting as Christians, that is to say, for them trying to make it possible for Christ's operation and activity be performed in the world, then he persecutes Christ Himself.

It is the same, if a heavy pot is to be lifted and put by a little boy on a shelf, and since he is weak and unable to do it alone, a mother supports his hand and the boy thus lifts the pot together with the mother's co-lifting. Now, if anybody hinders this boy in lifting the pot, automatically he would hinder the mother also, for mother is helping the son in performing the very same action. The same is when one persecutes a Christian who does commandments of Christ - automatically Christ is also persecuted.

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