THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
by Greg Williamson © revised 2022
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB © The Lockman Foundation*

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Saul's Conversion (Acts 9:1-19a) | Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem (Acts 9:19b-31) | Aeneas and Dorcas (Acts 9:32-43)

Saul's Conversion (Acts 9:1-19a)

Vendetta, vision, and visitation (Acts 9:1-19a)

 
(1) Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, (2) and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. (3) As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; (4) and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" (5) And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, (6) but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do." (7) The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. (8) Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. (9) And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

(10) Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord." (11) And the Lord said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, (12) and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight." (13) But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; (14) and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name." (15) But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; (16) for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake." (17) So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." (18) And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; (19) and he took food and was strengthened.
 

OUTLINE
I. ACTIVITIES IN THE LIFE OF SAUL (Acts 9:1–31)
  A. Saul's vendetta against the saints of God (Acts 9:1–2)
    1. His hatred for the Jerusalem Christians (Acts 9:1)
2. His hatred for the Damascus Christians (Acts 9:2): Saul sets out to persecute believers in Damascus.
  B. Saul's vision of the Son of God (Acts 9:3–9)
    1. The revelation (Acts 9:3–6)
      a. What he sees (Acts 9:3): He sees a brilliant and blinding light from heaven.
b. What he hears (Acts 9:4–6): Jesus says to him, "Why are you persecuting me?"
    2. The results (Acts 9:7–9): Saul's traveling companions lead him into Damascus blind, and he consumes neither food nor water for the next three days.
  C. Saul's visitation by the servant of God (Acts 9:10–25)
    1. Events preceding this visit (Acts 9:10–16): God appears to a believer in Damascus named Ananias.
      a. The revelation (Acts 9:10–12): God instructs Ananias to go and minister to Saul.
b. The reluctance (Acts 9:13–14): Knowing Saul's evil past, Ananias is afraid to go.
c. The reassurance (Acts 9:15–16): God assures Ananias that Saul is now a believer.
    2. Events during this visit (Acts 9:17–19): Ananias lays hands on Saul, with a twofold result.
      a. Saul is healed of his blindness (Acts 9:17a, 18a)
b. Saul is filled with the Spirit (Acts 9:17b, 18b–19) [ref]
TRUTH APPLIED
Paul's Background & Qualifications
Stanley Toussaint:
     
 
The conversion of Saul (Paul) is believed by some to be the most important event in the church since Pentecost. Luke certainly considered Saul’s conversion significant for he recorded it three times in Acts (chaps. 9, 22, 26).

[Paul's] background and qualifications suited him eminently for the work to which God had called him:

  1. He knew the Jewish culture and language well (Acts 21:40; Phil. 3:5).
  2. Because he was reared in Tarsus he was well acquainted with the Greek culture and its philosophies (Acts 17:22–31; Titus 1:12).
  3. He possessed all the privileges of a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37; 22:23–29; 25:10–12).
  4. He was trained and skilled in Jewish theology (Gal. 1:14).
  5. Because he was capable in a secular trade he was able to support himself (Acts 18:3; 1 Cor. 9:4–18; 2 Cor. 11:7–11; 1 Thes. 2:9; 2 Thes. 3:8).
  6. God gave him zeal, leadership qualities, and theological insight. [ref]
 

TRUTH APPLIED
Saul's Conversion Experience
Just as it was for the early Church, Saul's conversion is vitally important for today's Christian. Why? Because Paul's writings -- which are an indispensable part of our New Testament -- are accepted as legitimate based on his apostolic authority. And since Paul was not among the original group of apostles, he had to have been separately chosen and commissioned by Christ himself -- which is precisely what happened at his conversion. [ref]

It goes without saying that in some ways Saul's experience is not typical of Christian conversion today, which normally is not accompanied by a booming voice and temporary blindness. Stott: "Nevertheless, it is clear from the rest of the New Testament that other features of Saul's conversion and commissioning are applicable to us today. For we too can (and must) experience a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, surrender to him in penitence and faith, and receive his summons to service." [ref] And of course "most of us can reflect on people, events, and circumstances that show God's initiative in reaching us with his love in the gospel." [ref] - AC21DOJ
  • (Acts 9:1-2) Beginning with Acts 9:1, Luke returns to Saul, "a callous, self-righteous, bigoted murderer set on a full-scale inquisition." [ref] [S]till breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, Saul petitions the high priest in Jerusalem for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus requesting "permission to take, bind, and extradite" [ref] any belonging to the Way, which is to say "the Christian faith, conviction, confession, and life as taught by and centering in Jesus." [ref]
    ■ Bruce: "[Saul] was not content with driving them from Jerusalem; they must be pursued and rooted out wherever they fled, not only within the frontiers of the land of Israel but beyond them as well." [ref]
    ■ Toussaint: "Damascus was not under the control of Judea, Galilee, or the Decapolis. What jurisdiction would the high priest have over synagogues in Damascus? This is usually answered by saying Rome recognized the right of extradition when the high priest in Jerusalem demanded it. But this can also be explained in another way. At that time Damascus may have been under the Nabatean king, Aretas IV (cf. 2 Cor. 11:32–33). In order to gain favor with the anti-Roman Jews, Aretas, who hated the Romans, would have conceded this favor to the high priest." [ref]
  • (Acts 9:2-4, 7)
    ■ Bruce: "Since [Saul] was commissioned to bring the refugees in chains to Jerusalem, he would naturally have required the help of others (perhaps members of the temple police) to round them up and take them back." [ref] And so we find Saul and his traveling companions on the road to Damascus when he has a profound encounter with the risen Christ. Saul sees a light and hears a voice -- "two features that one might expect in a divine revelation." [ref]
    ■ Keener: "The light from heaven indicates the Shekinah, God's presence (related to the concept of yeqara, 'glory'), as God often revealed his glory in the Old Testament." [ref]
    ■ It knocks Saul to the ground, "'prostrate at the feet of his conqueror.'" [ref]
  • (Acts 9:4) Saul then hears the voice of "Jesus, once crucified but now the heavenly Lord -- the one whom he was zealously persecuting in the person of his followers" [ref], the "One who had now attained to a heavenly status and was thus shown to be vindicated and upheld by God." [ref] Jesus asks: Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?
    ■ As Polhill notes: "It would be hard to imagine how [Jesus'] words must have struck Paul. They were a complete refutation of all he had been. He had persecuted Christians for their 'blasphemous lie' that Jesus was risen, that he was the Lord reigning in glory. Now Paul himself beheld that same Jesus and the undeniable proof that he both lived and reigned in glory." [ref]
    ■ Toussaint: "The question, Why do you persecute Me? (cf. Acts 9:5) is filled with significance for it shows the union of Christ with His church. The Lord did not ask, “Why do you persecute My church?” The reference to “Me” gave Saul his first glimpse into the great doctrine of Christians being in Christ. This same truth was implied earlier by Luke when he wrote that the Lord continues His work on earth in the church (1:1). Also Ananias’ lie to Peter was a lie to the Holy Spirit (5:3). Luke, with Paul, saw Christ and the church as the Head and its body." [ref]
TRUTH APPLIED
Attacks Against Jesus
R. C. Sproul: "Saul heard his name called from heaven with the question, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?' Jesus had already ascended to heaven; His persecution had been completed, but the fact that He claimed persecution by Saul shows that He so identifies with His people that any believer who is persecuted for Christ's sake is identified with Jesus Himself. Jesus was saying, 'If you persecute My people, you persecute Me.' Everywhere in the world, from the early church through today, attacks against the people of God are in fact attacks against Jesus." [ref]
  • (Acts 9:5-9)
    ■ Toussaint: "Some interpret 'Lord' in Saul’s question, Who are You, Lord? (kyrie) as 'Sir.' It is possible for this noun to have this meaning, as it does in Matthew 13:27; 27:63; John 4:11; Acts 10:4; and elsewhere. However, there is too much that is supernatural in this passage to use the mere human vocative, 'Sir.' Even though Saul did not immediately recognize this One as Jesus, he must have acknowledged a supernatural being. Jesus then identified Himself to Saul: I am Jesus (cf. Acts 9:17)." [ref]
    ■ After identifying himself, Jesus directs Saul to go into the city and await "fresh instructions about his future task." [ref] Saul, now struck blind, is led into Damascus where he spends the next three days without sight and unable to eat or drink anything. As Peterson explains: "In view of what happens to Elymas in [Acts 13:11], [Saul's blindness] appears to be an act of divine judgment for Saul's opposition to the Lord and his people (Acts 9:5). Saul is humbled until he realizes his need to be delivered from physical and spiritual darkness by the Lord's gracious intervention." [ref]
    ■ Toussaint: "An apparent discrepancy stands between [Acts 9:7] and [Acts 22:9]. In [Acts 9:7] Luke recorded that the men who traveled with Saul … heard the sound (phōnēs), but in [Acts 22:9] Luke wrote that 'they did not understand the voice' (phōnēn). Literally, that clause in [Acts 22:9] may be translated, 'They did not hear the sound.' The NIV correctly translates the verse, because the verb 'to hear' with the genitive case may mean 'to hear a sound' and with the accusative case 'to hear with understanding.' The genitive case is employed in [Acts 9:7], and the accusative is used in [Acts 22:9]. So the travelers with Saul heard the sound (Acts 9:7) but did not understand what Christ said (Acts 22:9)." [ref]
TRUTH APPLIED
Sight Without Vision
Helen Keller has said: "The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision." [ref] Prior to his Damascus road experience, Saul saw Jesus as a false messiah and his followers as blasphemers. Then he had a life-changing encounter with the risen Lord that forever altered his vision. While the average Christian's testimony may not be as dramatic as the apostle Paul's, every born-again believer is given both spiritual sight and a vision of what it means to live for Jesus rather than self. - AC21DOJ

TRUTH APPLIED
You Will Be Told
William Barclay notes: "There is all of Christianity in what the Risen Christ said to Paul, 'Go into the city, and you will be told what to do.' Up to this moment Paul had been doing what he liked, what he thought best, what his will dictated. From this time forward he would be told what to do. The Christian is a man who has ceased to do what he wants to do and who has begun to do what Christ wants him to do." [ref] We will repeatedly face times when our desires go against what God desires for us. "When desires are in conflict, the right choice is obedience to God" -- which at times will demand a high cost in the form of loss, hardship, or some other difficulty. Neil Wilson: "No one enjoys pain, but a faithful disciple wants above all else to please God. Our desire to please God should overshadow our desire to avoid hardship and suffering. When we really want to do God's will, we must accept all that comes with it -- even the pain." [ref] - AC21DOJ
  • (Acts 9:10-14) Having encountered "the light of [Jesus'] blinding, heavenly presence and glory," [ref] Saul is languishing in darkenss when Jesus appears via a vision to a Christian disciple named Ananias and directs him to meet with and minister to Saul. [ref] Ananias is to go to the street called Straight, specifically to the house of Judas, and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, whom Ananias will lay his hands on in order to restore his sight. Saul has already had a vision of his own in which his sight is restored by a man named Ananias. Knowing both Saul's reputation and his reason for coming to Damascus, it is understandable that Ananias's initial reaction is one of fear and distrust [ref]. Bruce: Ananias "had not had any personal experience of Saul's harrying of the disciples, but those who could speak from firsthand knowledge had told him of Saul's activity, and the news of his coming to Damascus to prosecute his grim work there had reached the city before Saul himself arrived." [ref]
  • (Acts 9:13-14) Notice that Ananias refers to the believers as Your saints or holy/sanctified ones, and all who call on your name in order to be saved. As Lenski explains: Saints "describes the disciples as having been removed from the sinful fellowship of the world and by the sanctifying power of God placed into fellowship with the God of redemption and salvation." [ref] Regarding your name: "To call on this name is to confess it as being the bearer of salvation, to pray and to worship in this name, and to expect all help in time and in eternity from him who is revealed by this name." [ref]
TRUTH APPLIED
Less Back Talking
R. C. Sproul: "Ananias had the unspeakable arrogance to correct the Lord Jesus Christ about His plan. Can anything be more ridiculous than a mortal suggesting to the Almighty a better way of doing things? We would think Ananias the biggest fool in history, except that we have done the same thing repeatedly. When we do not like how God is dealing with us or with our circumstances, we take it upon ourselves to set Him straight and suggest a more excellent way. Ananias is not the only biblical example of such reluctance. We also see it with Moses and Jeremiah. Such hesitation is typical; it comes from the weakness of the flesh." [ref] Of course the solution for both Ananias and all the rest of us is always the same: More listening and less back talking! - AC21DOJ
  • (Acts 9:15-16) But the Master said, "Don't argue. Go! I have picked him as my personal representative to Gentiles and kings and Jews. And now I'm about to show him what he's in for -- the hard suffering that goes with this job." (MSG)
    ■ Lenski: "The Lord complies with the implied request of Ananias and gives him a glimpse of what Saul is to accomplish in the future. Ananias is merely to aid in the first step. The present imperative is quite mild: 'Just be going -- everything is all right!'" [ref]
    ■ Bruce: "[Jesus] had his eye on the man of Tarsus and had a great work for him to perform. In spite of his recent record as a persecutor, Saul was a chosen instrument (For Paul's own sense of his election for special service see Rom 1:1, 5; Gal 1:15-16; Eph 3:7-13.) in the Lord's hand, a messenger who would spread the good news in Jesus' name more widely than anyone else. The Gentiles and their rulers, not only the people of Israel, would hear the proclamation of salvation from his lips." [ref]
  • (Acts 9:15)
    ■ As pointed out by Peterson, the fact that Saul is the Lord's chosen instrument means that he has been chosen "for a special role or mission that not all disciples share." [ref]
    ■ Lenski: "As the Lord's instrument Saul will take up and carry the Lord's name or revelation before the Gentiles, etc., holding it up for them to see and to adore." [ref]
    ■ Dunn: "The order, Gentiles, kings and sons of Israel, certainly reflects something of the subsequent course of Paul's mission (cf. Acts 25:13, 23; 26:1; 27:24). But the addition of the third item is a clear indication that Luke did not see Saul's mission as mission to Gentiles as against Jews, far less to Gentiles in rejection of his fellow Jews." [ref]
    ■ Peterson: "Tannehill helpfully summarizes the phrases used in Acts to describe Saul's distinctive commission in the following way.
    • He is chosen by the Lord (Acts 9:15; 13:47; 20:24; 22:14; 26:16)
    • and sent as witness to both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 9:15; 13:46-47; 20:21; 22:15; 22:18-21; 26:16-17).
    • His mission will encounter rejection and require suffering (Acts 9:16; 13:46; 20:19; 20:23; 22:18; 26:17),
    • but will bring light (Acts 13:47; 26:17-18; 26:23).
    • He will preach repentance (Acts 20:21; 26:18; 26:20),
    • and his witness to Jesus will be based on what he has seen and heard (Acts 22:14-15; 26:16)." [ref]
  • (Acts 9:16) Ananias is also told that as part of his missionary calling, Saul will have "much suffering to endure for the sake of Jesus' name." [ref] Jesus' words, I will show him how much he must suffer, indicates a progressive "showing from time to time as occasions for suffering arise ... and includes also the idea that the Lord would be present with Saul and each time point out what he must suffer and help him to endure it." [ref]
TRUTH APPLIED
A Costly Task
■ D. G. Peterson has said: "Those who are united to Christ by faith suffer as he did, and he identifies with them in their struggle." [ref]
■ And I. H. Marshall notes how "[t]he book of Acts does not gloss over the fact that faithful witness to Jesus is a costly task in terms of the suffering that it may cause for the bearer of the good news." [ref]
■ Here a number of Neil Wilson's insights are worth noting [ref]:
  • "For Christians, there is always hope and joy beyond the suffering. ... Rather than be terrified by what is happening in our world, we should confidently await Christ's return to bring justice and restoration to his people."
  • "God does not expect us to enjoy suffering. ... It is abnormal to want to suffer, but as Jesus' followers we should be willing to suffer if by doing so we can help build God's kingdom. We have two wonderful promises to help us as we suffer: God will always be with us (Matthew 28:20), and he will one day rescue us and give us eternal life (Rev. 21:1-4)."
  • "We know that Jesus understands our suffering and will help us through. Knowing that Christ suffered pain and faced temptation helps us face our trials. Jesus understands our struggles because he faced them as a human being. We can trust Christ to help us survive suffering and overcome temptation. When you face trials, go to Jesus for strength and patience. He understands your needs and is able to help."
  • "What is true will remain true, even in suffering. We can't really know the depth of our character until we see how we react under pressure. It is easy to be kind to others when everything is going well, but can we still be kind when others are treating us unfairly? God wants to make us mature and complete, not to keep us from all pain. Instead of complaining about our struggles, we should see them as opportunities for growth. Thank God for promising to be with you in rough times. Ask him to help you solve your problems or to give you the strength to endure them. Then be patient. God will not leave you alone with your problems; he will stay close and help you grow."
  • (Acts 9:17-19a) Ananias obeys the Lord by going to Brother Saul, laying his hands on him, and offering him words of encouragement. Saul's vision is restored, he is baptized, and he eats and regains his strength.
    ■ As Longnecker notes: "Ananias greeted [Saul] ... with the fraternal greeting 'brother' -- believing, it seems, that whoever Jesus had accepted was his brother, whatever he might think about such a person himself, and that all further relationships between them must be built on that basis." [ref]
    ■ And along the same lines, Stott says: "Ananias addressed him as 'Brother Saul' or 'Saul, my brother' (NEB). I never fail to be moved by these words. They may well have been the first words which Saul heard from Christian lips after his conversion, and they were words of fraternal welcome. They must have been music to his ears. What? Was the arch-enemy of the church to be welcomed as a brother? Was the dreaded fanatic to be received as a member of the family? Yes, it was so." [ref]
TRUTH APPLIED
Practical Lessons For All Believers
In closing this section of his commentary, Warren Wiersbe offers "several practical lessons that all believers ought to learn":
     
 
  • To begin with, God can use even the most obscure saint. Were it not for the conversion of Saul, we would never have heard of Ananias; and yet Ananias had an important part to play in the ongoing work of the church. Behind many well-known servants of God are lesser-known believers who have influenced them. God keeps the books and will see to it that each servant will get a just reward. The important thing is not fame but faithfulness (1 Cor. 4:1-5).
  • The experience of Ananias also reminds us that we should never be afraid to obey God's will. Ananias at first argued with the Lord and gave some good reasons why he should not visit Saul. But the Lord had everything under control, and Ananias obeyed by faith. When God commands, we must remember that He is working "at both ends of the line," and that His perfect will is always the best.
  • There is a third encouragement: God's works are always balanced. God balanced a great public miracle with a quiet meeting in the house of Judas. The bright light and the voice from heaven were dramatic events, but the visit of Ananias was somewhat ordinary. The hand of God pushed Saul from his "high horse," but God used the hand of a man to bring Saul what he most needed. God spoke from heaven, but He also spoke through an obedient disciple who gave the message to Saul. The "ordinary" events were just as much a part of the miracle as were the extraordinary.
  • Finally, we must never underestimate the value of one person brought to Christ. Peter was ministering to thousands in Jerusalem, and Philip had seen a great harvest among the Samaritan people, but Ananias was sent to only one man. Yet what a man! Saul of Tarsus became Paul the apostle, and his life and ministry have influenced people and nations ever since. Even secular historians confess that Paul is one of the significant figures in world history. On April 21, 1855, Edward Kimball led one of his Sunday School boys to faith in Christ. Little did he realize that Dwight L. Moody would one day become the world's leading evangelist. The ministry of Norman B. Harrison in an obscure Bible conference was used of God to bring Theodore Epp to faith in Christ, and God used Theodore Epp to build the Back to the Bible ministry around the world. Our task is to lead men and women to Christ; God's task is to use them for His glory; and every person is important to God. [ref]
 
 
 

A PRINCIPLE TO LIVE BY
God's Mercy and Grace (Acts 9:1-19)
Though our conversion experiences vary greatly, all Christians are to praise and thank God continually for His saving grace. (Video link) [ref]

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*Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, © Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. www.Lockman.org