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David Guzik :: Study Guide for Acts 9

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The Conversion of Saul of Tarsus

A. Saul on the road to Damascus.

1. (Act 9:1-2) Saul's purpose in traveling to Damascus.

Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

a. Then Saul: We last saw Saul in Acts 8:3, where it says that he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Here he continues and expands this work to the city of Damascus.

i. Damascus was 130 miles northeast of Jerusalem. This was at least a six-day journey, and Saul's willingness shows how committed he was to his cause. When God got a hold of Saul, Saul wasn't looking for Jesus!

b. Went to the high priest: The high priest mentioned here is Caiaphas. Recently, an urn was found in Jerusalem inscribed with the name of this high priest and positively dated to this period. These are the first physical remains (such as bones or ashes) of a specific person mentioned in the New Testament.

c. Still breathing threats and murder: Saul was committed to persecuting Christians, and even after he became a Christian, he remembered his days as a persecutor. In Philippians 3, he makes mention of this background, saying he was circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

i. In Galatians 1:13, Paul adds more regarding his background: For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

d. What did Saul look like? A very old apocryphal book, dating to the end of the first century, describes Paul like this: "A man of moderate stature, with crisp hair, crooked legs, blue eyes, large knit brows, and long nose, at times looking like a man, at times like an angel." (Cited in Gaebelein)

e. If he found any who were of the Way: Here, Christianity is referred to as the Way. This seems to be the earliest "name" for the Christian movement, and a fitting one - used five times in Acts.

i. The name the Way means that Christianity is more than a belief or a set of opinions or doctrines. Following Jesus is a way of living as well as believing.

2. (Act 9:3-6) God meets Paul on the road to Damascus.

As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" 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." So he, trembling and astonished, said, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" Then the Lord said to him, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."

a. Suddenly a light shone around him from heaven … and heard a voice: This spectacular event also must be regarded as unusual. God does not normally confront sinners with a heavenly light and an audible voice from heaven.

i. In Acts 26:13 Paul reveals that this happened at mid-day, when the sun shines at its brightest; but this heavenly light was brighter than the sun could ever be.

b. Then he fell to the ground: Saul's reaction was simply to fall to the ground. This wasn't because of honor or reverence for God, it was simply a reaction of survival - he was terrified at the heavenly light.

c. And heard a voice saying to him: The rabbis of Saul's day believed that God no longer spoke to man directly, as He did in the days of the prophets. However, they believed that one could hear the "echo" of God's voice, what they called "the daughter of the voice of God." Here, Saul learns that one can hear God directly!

d. Saul, Saul: When God repeats a name twice, it is to display deep emotion, but not necessarily anger (as in the Martha, Martha of Luke 10:41 and the Jerusalem, Jerusalem of Matthew 23:37).

e. Why are you persecuting Me? As the heavenly light overwhelms him, Saul is confronted by the true nature of his crime: He is persecuting God, not man.

i. Saul thought that he was serving God in viciously attacking Christians, but now he discovers that he has been fighting against God.

ii. This has been sadly true through history. Men who were convinced they were doing God a favor have done much of the worst persecution and torture ever practiced.

iii. We shouldn't only emphasize the "Me" in why are you persecuting Me; we should also notice the "why" and see that Jesus is asking "why are you persecuting Me?" That is, "Saul, why are you doing such a futile thing?"

f. I am Jesus: This was all Jesus had to say for Saul to know exactly who He was, even though "Jesus" was a fairly common name. Saul knew who Jesus was; he had undoubtedly heard Him teach in Jerusalem and as a probable member of the Sanhedrin, Saul sat in judgment of Jesus in the trial before His crucifixion.

g. Saul responds with two of the most important questions anyone can (and must) ask. The first question is "Who are You, Lord?" The second question is "Lord, what do You want me to do?"

i. Most everyone has questions they would like to ask God. A recent Gallup Survey asked people to choose three questions they would most like to ask God. The top five responses: "Will there ever be lasting world peace?" "How can I be a better person?" "What does the future hold for my family and me?" "Will there ever be a cure for all diseases?" "Why is there suffering in the world?" It is strange that people would want to ask God these questions when they are already answered in the Bible! But they really aren't the most important questions for us to ask. Saul asks the right questions!

ii. Who are You, Lord? We must ask that question with a humble heart, and ask it to God. Jesus shows us exactly who God is, and He can answer this question. Paul spent the rest of his life wanting to know more completely the answer to this question (Philippians 3:10).

iii. What do You want me to do? Few dare to really ask God this question, but when we ask it, we must ask it with submission and determined obedience.

iv. Saul's question was personal. He asked the question with a "me": "Lord, what do You want me to do?" We often are quite interested in what God wants others to do. But the surrendered heart asks, "Lord, what do You want me to do?"

h. In saying "It is hard for you to kick against the goads," Jesus is giving Saul a "mini-parable."

i. The insertion of it is hard for you to kick against the goads and Lord, what do You want me to do? in Acts 9:5-6 is accurate, but not in Luke's original text. They were added by scribes, based on Acts 22:10 and 26:14, who thought they were doing God a favor by putting it in here.

ii. A goad was a long, extremely sharp stick that was used to get an ox going the way you wanted him to when you were plowing. You would jab the hind legs of the ox with the goad until the ox cooperated.

iii. Essentially, Saul is the ox; Jesus is the farmer; Saul is dumb and stubborn - yet valuable, and potentially extremely useful to the Master's service. Jesus is goading Saul into the right direction, and the goading causes Saul pain, but instead of submitting to Jesus, Saul is kicking against the goad - and only increasing his pain.

iv. Is it too much to say that if we will not ask these two great questions and listen to God's answers to these questions, then we are acting like dumb oxen?

v. We may complain that God compares us to oxen, and indeed it is an unfair comparison. After all, what ox has ever rebelled against God like we have? God almost owes an apology to oxen!

i. It is hard for you shows the great love of Jesus. He is the one being persecuted, yet his concern is for the effect it is having on Saul. What a tender heart Jesus has!

j. The fact that Saul was trembling and astonished by all of this reminds us that it is not always pleasant to encounter heaven dramatically. Saul was terrified by this experience, not oozing with warm, gushy feelings.

i. In Acts 9, we are only given the briefest account of what happened here. We know more from what Paul says about this experience in Acts 26:12-18, 1 Corinthians 9:1 and 15:8. We also know more from what Barnabas says about Saul's experience in Acts 9:27 and from what Ananias says about Saul's experience in Acts 9:17. From these accounts, we learn that Jesus appeared to Saul personally in this blinding vision.

ii. In response to this light, Saul undoubtedly shut his eyes as tight as he could; yet, Jesus still appeared before him. After the same pattern, Jesus has often had to appear to us even though we shut our eyes.

iii. In this encounter with Jesus, Saul learned the gospel that he would preach his whole life. He insists in Galatians 1:11-12, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.

k. When Saul asks "Lord, what do You want me to do?" Jesus answers him only by telling what to do right at the moment.

i. This is often the character of God's direction in our lives. He directs us one step at a time instead of laying out the details of the grand plan at once.

3. (Act 9:7-9) Saul immediately after the Damascus road.

And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

a. The men who journeyed with him stood speechless: The experience was incomprehensible to Saul's companions, but as Saul opened his eyes (presumably shut tight in a terrified reaction to the heavenly light), he still could not see (when his eyes were opened he saw no one).

i. We can almost hear God saying to Saul, "You shut your eyes against My light and My Saviour. Fine! Spend a few days as blind physically as you have been blind spiritually!"

b. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank: It seems that he was so shaken by the experience that he was unable to eat or drink for three days. All Saul could do was simply sit in a blind silence. This was a humbling experience, and a time when Saul must have challenged all his previous ideas about who God was and what pleased God.

i. In the three days of blindness and deprivation, Saul was dying to himself. It would only be after the three days of dying that he would be raised to new life.

B. God ministers to Saul through Ananias.

1. (Act 9:10-12) God's message to Ananias.

Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord." So the Lord said to him, "Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. "And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight."

a. To him the Lord said in a vision: There is an entirely different character in the way God spoke to Ananias than in the way He spoke to Saul. Saul had a bold, almost violent confrontation from God, but Ananias hears the voice of God sweetly in a vision, where God calls and Ananias obediently responds. What better response could there be than "Here I am, Lord"?

i. We shouldn't be surprised if unbelievers receive the word with initial resistance and questioning like Saul, and we should expect Christians to receive the word like Ananias.

b. Arise and go: God's instructions to Ananias are clear, but curiously, God tells Ananias about Saul's vision in Ananias' own vision!

c. Behold, he is praying: Paul had never really prayed before; he merely repeated formal prayers. Before, his prayers were not spiritual, he had never prayed with Jesus as mediator, he had never prayed in Jesus' name, and his own heart was proud and far from God. He had said many prayers, but had never prayed.

d. Why Ananias? Was he a prominent Christian? We have no reason to believe so. Did God need to use a human agent at all in this work? Not really. God used Ananias because God loves to use people, and Ananias was a willing servant. Ananias asked Saul's question, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" by the way he lived his life.

e. Ananias was an ordinary man - not an apostle, a prophet, a pastor, an evangelist, an elder, or a deacon. Yet God used him especially because he was an ordinary man. If an apostle or a prominent person had ministered to Paul, people might say Paul received his gospel from a man instead of Jesus. In the same way, God needs to use the ordinary man - there is a special work for them to do.

2. (Act 9:13-16) God overcomes Ananias' objections.

Then Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake."

a. Lord, I have heard from many about this man: Certainly, Ananias had heard that this angry and violent persecutor named Saul of Tarsus was on his way from Jerusalem. The Christians of Damascus must have been anxiously preparing for the persecution to come.

b. I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done: Ananias' objections are perfectly logical and well-founded. However, they presume that God needs instruction, or at best, counsel. It is almost as if Ananias is asking, "God, did you know what kind of guy this Saul is?"

c. He is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name: God had a call for the life of Saul. At this time, God had not even revealed that calling to Saul, though He tells Ananias first.

i. God considered Saul His chosen vessel long before there appeared anything worthy in Saul to choose. God knew what He could make of Saul, even when Saul or Ananias didn't know.

d. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake: This is almost chilling. Saul was going to leave a life of privilege to embrace a higher call, but a call with much suffering.

3. (Act 9:17-19) Ananias prays and Saul is healed and receives the Holy Spirit.

And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized. So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.

a. Brother Saul: When Ananias laid his hands on Saul, it was not only a gesture with the spiritual meaning of bestowing the blessing of the Holy Spirit on Saul; it was also a simple gesture of love meeting the needs of a blind man who could not see the love on Ananias' face, so he communicated it through his touch.

b. Be filled with the Holy Spirit: It seems that this is when Saul was actually born again. Here is where he receives the Holy Spirit and is healed from his blindness, which was spiritual blindness as much as physical blindness.

i. Be filled: God did an effective job of "breaking" Saul, but it wasn't God's intention to leave him broken. God wanted to break Saul so He could fill him and leave him filled.

ii. "It is often said that Saul was converted on the road to Damascus. Strictly speaking, this is not the fact. His conversion began in his encounter with the law but it was not accomplished until the gospel entered his heart by faith, and that did not occur on the road, but in Damascus." (Lenski)

c. When he had received food, he was strengthened: Saul immediately began to be strengthened both physically and spiritually. God is concerned about both areas of need.

4. Observations on the conversion of Saul of Tarsus.

a. Paul regarded his conversion experience as a pattern for all believers: Although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief … However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. (1 Timothy 1:13,16).

b. If Paul's conversion is a pattern, then we can share his experiences. First, Jesus must confront us with Himself, with our sin and rebellion against Him, even the sins which were done in ignorance. Then we must humbly wait for the work within us that only He can do.

c. Saul's conversion reminds us that at its core, salvation is something God does in us. What we do is only a response to His work in us.

d. Saul's conversion reminds us that God finds us, even when we are not looking for Him.

e. Saul's conversion reminds us that God looks for people to cooperate in the conversion of others, even when they are not really necessary, except as a demonstration of the importance of the family of God.

f. Saul's conversion reminds us that it isn't enough that we be broken before God, though that is necessary. God's desire is to only use brokenness as a prelude to filling.

C. Saul's initial ministry in Damascus and Jerusalem.

1. (Act 9:20-22) Saul preaches powerfully in Damascus.

Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. Then all who heard were amazed, and said, "Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?" But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.

a. Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues: Because Saul was a skilled student of the great rabbi Gamaliel, he could take advantage of the synagogue custom that invited any able Jewish man to speak on the Scriptures at synagogue meetings.

b. He preached the Christ: The message of Paul was all about Jesus. He knew they needed to know Jesus in truth, that He is the Son of God.

i. Many people think when Jesus is called the Son of God it is a way of saying He is not God, only "the son of God." But in Jesus' day, everyone knew what this title meant. To be called the "son of" something meant you were totally identified with that thing or person, and their identity was your identity. When Jesus called Himself the Son of God, and when others called Him that, it was understood as a clear claim to His deity.

ii. In fact, on two occasions when Jesus called Himself the Son of God, He was accused of blasphemy, of calling Himself God (John 5:17-18, Matthew 26:63-65). Everybody knew what Jesus meant in calling Himself Son of God, and everyone knew what Saul meant when he preached that Jesus is the Son of God.

c. Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name: People were genuinely amazed at Saul's conversion; it was hard to believe just how powerfully Jesus could change a life. Years later, Paul himself would write: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17) Paul lived that verse long before he wrote it!

d. Is it surprising Saul was serving the Lord so soon after his conversion? Not at all; that is often the best time to serve the Lord, and especially to tell others about Jesus. When we are newly converted, we still understand the way people who don't yet know Jesus think.

i. It is true that young Christians shouldn't hastily be put in positions of authority in the church (1 Timothy 3:6), but you don't need a position of authority to serve the Lord!

ii. Saul's willingness to serve the Lord was a contributing factor in the fact he increased all the more in strength. As we seek to serve others, God ministers strength to us.

e. Proving that this Jesus is the Christ: Saul, an expert in the Old Testament, could easily see how Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Scriptures.

2. (Act 9:23-25) Saul's escape from Damascus.

Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him. But their plot became known to Saul. And they watched the gates day and night, to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket.

a. After many days were past: In Galatians 1:13-18, Paul elaborates on what happened during these many days. He describes how he went to Arabia for a period of time, and then returned to Damascus. After his return to Damascus, he went to Jerusalem. Paul spent a total of three years in Damascus and Arabia (Galatians 1:18); truly these were many days.

i. In 2 Corinthians 11:32-33, Paul refers to this incident and mentions it happened under Aretas the king. This means that this escape from Damascus happened between 37 and 39 A.D. So, taking into account the three years mentioned in Galatians 1:18, and that this incident happened at the end of those three years, we can surmise that Paul was converted sometime between 34 and 36 A.D.

b. The Jews plotted to kill him: This essentially begins the many things he must suffer for My name's sake the Lord spoke of in Acts 9:16. Saul now becomes the persecuted instead of the persecutor!

c. But their plot became known to Saul: If Saul would now know what it was to be persecuted for his faith, he would also know the mighty deliverance of God. Saul would enjoy divine protection until his ministry was completed before the Lord.

d. The disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket: Saul would indeed know divine protection in the midst of persecution, but he would also learn that God's deliverance often comes in humble ways. There is nothing triumphant about sneaking out of a city by night hiding in a large basket!

3. (Act 9:26-30) Saul with the Christians at Jerusalem.

And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out. And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him. When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus.

a. He tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him: Why would Christians in Jerusalem be so suspicious of Saul even three years after his conversion? They may have thought that Saul was part of an elaborate and extended plot; they may have wondered why he went off by himself for a while in Arabia; or just as likely, they probably were reluctant to embrace such a dramatic conversion without seeing it with their own eyes. Simply, they did not believe that he was a disciple.

i. At this point, some people might turn their back on Jesus Christ. They might say, "I've been serving the Lord for three years, preaching Jesus Christ, enduring assassination attempts and death threats. Now you don't want to accept me as a Christian? This is the love of Jesus? Forget it!"

ii. But Saul had a greater heart of love for Jesus and Jesus' followers. It no doubt hurt, but he understood that the disciples in Jerusalem would long remember the Christians Saul had killed and persecuted. If the disciples in Jerusalem might lack a little in love, Saul would add a little more love to make up for it.

b. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles: Thank God for people like Ananias and Barnabas, who will welcome people into the family of God with simple friendship.

i. Barnabas simply extended the love of Jesus to Saul, and as Paul would write later, love believes all things (1 Corinthians 13:8).

c. He was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out: In Galatians 1:18, Paul writes that in this first trip to Jerusalem, he stayed with Peter for fifteen days. He also says that he never had an audience with all the apostles, seeing only Peter and James, Jesus' brother.

i. This time with the apostles in Jerusalem was important, because it finally and certainly welcomed Saul into the family of the followers of Jesus. But Paul made a point of the limited nature of his time with the apostles in Jerusalem to show clearly that he did not receive his gospel from the other apostles. Though he was no doubt blessed and benefited from that time, he received his message by direct revelation from Jesus on the road to Damascus. Luke alludes to this when he writes that Saul, speaking to the apostles, declared to them … what He had spoken to him. The apostles were no doubt rejoicing that they and Saul and the exact same message from Jesus!

d. He spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus … but they attempted to kill him: Saul again faces persecution and assassination attempts. This will be a recurring pattern in his ministry.

e. For his own protection, the Christians in Jerusalem sent him out to Tarsus. Twelve years will pass in the life of Saul before he again enters into prominent ministry, being sent out as a missionary from the church at Antioch. At that time, it will also be Barnabas who reaches out to Saul, remembering him and loving him.

4. (Act 9:31) The health of the churches in the whole region.

Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.

a. Acts 9 began with a zealous man breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord (Acts 9:1). But God was more than able to turn this terrible threat into a great blessing. Now Luke wants us to know that God's work was not only continuing, but it was strong, despite the great opposition that had come against it.

b. Galilee: The text of the Book of Acts tells us nothing about the establishment of churches in Galilee. We don't know who started these churches, how they did it, or all the great works of God which took place in these young churches. This reminds us that Acts is only a partial history of the church during this period.

c. The churches … had peace: This doesn't mean that all persecution had stopped; instead, it means that they had peace in the midst of persecution.

i. At the end of verse 31, we are at an important historical crossroads in Acts and the events of the Roman Empire. In 37 A.D., Caiaphas was replaced as high priest, first by Jonathan, then by Theophilus. In the same year, Caligula succeeded Tiberius as Roman Emperor. Caligula was bitterly hostile against the Jews and would be assassinated four years later.

d. The churches … were edified: The word edified has the idea of being built up. The churches were growing in numbers and strength.

e. Whenever God's people are walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, you may expect that they will also see their numbers multiplied.

i. The fear of the Lord … the comfort of the Holy Spirit: Which of these do you need more today? Of course, we need both, but which do you need more today: The fear of the Lord or the comfort of the Holy Spirit? Often, God wants the comfortable to be afflicted (gaining the fear of the Lord) and the afflicted to be comforted (by the comfort of the Holy Spirit).

D. God works miracles through the apostle Peter.

1. (Act 9:32-35) Peter heals Aeneas at Lydda.

Now it came to pass, as Peter went through all parts of the country, that he also came down to the saints who dwelt in Lydda. There he found a certain man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years and was paralyzed. And Peter said to him, "Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you. Arise and make your bed." Then he arose immediately. So all who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.

a. Peter went through all parts of the country: The previous pattern of the apostles staying put in Jerusalem and those needing ministry coming from afar to them (as reflected in Acts 5:16) is now shifting. Peter went through all parts of the country to do ministry, traveling the 25 miles from Jerusalem to Lydda.

b. There he found a certain man: Peter found the needy man God wanted to miraculously heal, and Peter found him as he was out ministering to others in the name of Jesus. If we will be like Peter, who went through all parts of the country, then we will also find opportunities for the miraculous power of God.

c. Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you: Peter clearly identifies who it is doing the healing - Jesus the Christ. Peter is only His instrument. Jesus healed with the power of Jesus, but Peter did not heal with the power of Peter. Peter relied solely on the power of Jesus.

2. (Act 9:36-42) Dorcas from Joppa is raised from the dead.

At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did. But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. And since Lydda was near Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them. Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. But Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, "Tabitha, arise." And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord.

a. Both the names Dorcas and Tabitha mean "deer." This woman was a beloved member of the Christian community in Joppa, because she was full of good works and charitable deeds.

i. Luke makes it clear that Tabitha was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did.  Some people are full of good works and charitable deeds, but they are only full of them in their minds and hearts. They don't actually do them as Tabitha did. This is why Luke adds, which she did.

b. Why did Peter raise Dorcas from the dead? There is no indication that anyone asked him to, and we can't say that it was Peter's custom to raise every dead believer that he saw. It must have been a response to the direct leading of the Holy Spirit.

i. Does God still do this? Can God still raise the dead? Yes, of course He can and does. But Christians today must not be gullible about unsubstantiated reports.

c. Tabitha, arise: Peter seems to remember the healing Jesus performed in Mark 5:38-43, when He brought the daughter of the ruler of a synagogue back to life. In that healing, Jesus said, "Talitha, cumi." Peter says here (in the original language) "Tabitha cumi." Peter could hear Jesus' words in his head as he ministered.

i. Peter is simply trying to do what Jesus did. Jesus is his leader. He isn't trying to lead Jesus anymore, as he did when he told Jesus not to go the way of the cross in Matthew 16:22. Now Peter is letting Jesus lead him.

d. We should remind ourselves that Dorcas was not resurrected; she was resuscitated to her old life, where she would die again.

e. The fact that the Lord raised Dorcas, yet Stephen (and later, James in Acts 12:2) remained dead, reflects on God's unknowable ways. After all, it certainly seemed that Stephen and James were more important to the church than Dorcas; yet God knows what He is doing, even when we don't.

i. Dorcas wasn't raised for her own sake. She would have enjoyed heaven better! She was raised for the sake of her ministry to others, which is the same reason we have passed from death into life (John 5:24).

f. Acts 9:32 and 41 mention the saints in Lydda and Joppa; this is the first time Christians are called saints in Acts. When the Bible calls Christians saints, the idea isn't of a super-perfect people; the idea is of a people who are different. Saints are set apart from the world at large; they are distinctive.

3. (Act 9:43) Peter stays with Simon, a tanner.

So it was that he stayed many days in Joppa with Simon, a tanner.

a. He stayed many days in Joppa with Simon, a tanner: For a law-keeping Jew of that time, it was strictly forbidden to associate with anyone who routinely worked with dead animals. According to the laws of that time, a tanner had to live at least 75 feet outside a village because of his ritual uncleanness.

i. "The trade of a tanner was held in such supreme contempt that if a girl was betrothed to a tanner without knowing that he followed that calling, the betrothal was void." (Morgan)

b. Because he stayed many days in Joppa with Simon, a tanner, we see Peter is less concerned about Jewish traditions and ceremonial notions than he was before. This work of God in Peter's heart lays groundwork for what God will do in Peter in the following chapter.

© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

Study Guide for John 1 ← Prior Book
Study Guide for Romans 1 Next Book →
Study Guide for Acts 8 ← Prior Chapter
Study Guide for Acts 10 Next Chapter →

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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