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 in Damascus and Jerusalem (Acts 9:19b-31)

Post-visitation and validation (Acts 9:19b-31)

(19) Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus, (20) and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God." (21) All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, "Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?" (22) But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.

(23) When many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, (24) but their plot became known to Saul. They were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; (25) but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket.

(26) When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. (27) But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. (28) And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. (29) And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death. (30) But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus.

(31) So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.

I. ACTIVITIES IN THE LIFE OF SAUL (Acts 9:1–31) (cont'd)
  C. Saul's visitation by the servant of God (Acts 9:10–25) (cont'd)
    3. Events following this visit (Acts 9:20–25)
      a. Saul’s evangelism in Damascus (Acts 9:20–22): He preaches Christ in all the synagogues.
b. Saul’s escape from Damascus (Acts 9:23–25): Upon hearing of a plot against him, Saul leaves for Jerusalem.
  D. Saul’s validation by the statesman of God (Acts 9:26–31)
    1. The person (Acts 9:26–27): The highly respected Barnabas reassures some fearful Jerusalem believers of Saul’s sincerity.
2. The preaching (Acts 9:28): Saul preaches the gospel in Jerusalem as he did in Damascus.
3. The plot (Acts 9:29–31): After an attempt is made on Saul’s life, he departs for his hometown of Tarsus. [ref]
  • (Acts 9:19-20) Following the visit by Ananias, and the restoration of his sight and his baptism, for several days Saul remains with the disciples in Damascus, preaching/proclaiming in the synagogues the message that Jesus -- the sense being "this one and this one alone" [ref] -- is the Son of God.
    ■ As noted by Barclay, Saul "immediately bore his witness in Damascus. In Damascus there were many Jews and consequently there would be many synagogues. It was in these Damascus synagogues that Paul first lifted up his voice for Christ. That was an act of the greatest moral courage. It was to these very synagogues that Paul had received his letters of credit as an official agent of the Jewish faith and of the Sanhedrin. It would have been very much easier to begin his Christian witness somewhere where he was not known and where his past did not stand against him. Paul is saying, 'I am a changed man and I am determined that those who know me best should know it.' Already he is proclaiming, 'I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.'" [ref]
    ■ Bruce:
    It is more significant than might be supposed at first glance that the only occurrence of the title "Son of God" in Acts should be in this report of Saul's early preaching. It was as the Son of God that Christ was revealed to him on the Damascus road (Gal 1:16; cf. 2 Cor 1:19; Rom 1:4).

    As applied to our Lord ... the title "Son of God" marks him out as the true representative of the Israel of God and as God's anointed king; but it is no merely official title. As he himself understood the heavenly voice which said to him at his baptism, "You are my Son" (Mark 1:11 par. Luke 3:22), it expressed his unique relationship and fellowship with the Father. A. E. Harvey finds three aspects of sonship implicit in the ascription of the title to Jesus: his perfect obedience to God, his being the ultimate revealer of God, and his being the authorized agent of God. [ref]
    ■ And Dunn points out that it "was not a case of the title ['Son of God'] bestowing on Jesus a significance he would not otherwise have had. Rather it was Jesus' significance which gave the title its importance within Christianity." [ref]
Witness Wit And Wisdom
Warren Wiersbe: "Every new convert's witness for Christ ought to begin right where he is, so Saul began his ministry first in Damascus (Acts 26:20)." [ref] Some additional thoughts on witnessing [ref]:
  • "Something is fishy if we aren't fishing for men."
  • "Those on the road to heaven will not be content to go there alone."
  • "There's enough Bread of Life to supply the whole world, but are there enough volunteers to distribute it?"
  • "The gospel is not something we go to church to hear; it is something we go from the church to tell."
  • "Let's reach out to a world in need with the Word it needs."
  • "A passion for Jesus soon becomes a passion for telling others about Jesus."
  • "We who know the need must be willing to sow the seed."
  • "Christ never told his disciples to stay at home and wait for sinners to come to them."
  • "The secret of evangelism is allowing the love of Christ to overflow in every word, every action, and every thought."
  • "The church must go into the world because the world won't come into the church."
  • "Your mission field is the next unsaved person you meet."
  • "You cannot witness to the wrong person about Christ."
  • "Keep your light shining -- God will place it where it will do the most good."
  • "He has subpoenaed all of us as witnesses."
  • (Acts 9:21-22) Those hearing Saul the preacher and apologist (proving that this Jesus is the Christ) can hardly believe he is the same persecutor and antagonist originally sent to bind Christians and haul them before the chief priests. Bruce:
    It was to the synagogues of Damascus that Saul had been sent with the commission from the high priest, and to the synagogues of Damascus he went. But instead of presenting his letters of credence and demanding the extradition of the disciples of Jesus, he appeared as the bearer of a very different commission, issued by a higher authority than the high priest’s, and as a disciple and messenger of Jesus he announced his Master’s claims. No wonder that his hearers were amazed by the change that had come over him. The news of his mission had not been kept secret: here was the man whose arrival they had expected, but far from arresting the disciples of Jesus he was confounding the Jews of Damascus by his argument that the disciples’ witness was true: Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God. The filling of the Spirit which he had received gave his words a demonstrative power which could not be confuted: as with Stephen at an earlier date, so now with Saul, his hearers “could not resist the wisdom and spirit with which he spoke” (Acts 6:10). [ref]
  • (Acts 9:22) Saul keeps increasing in strength and as a result [ref] confounding the Jews by proving that Jesus is the Christ.
    ■ Lenski: "As Saul preached he grew in power 'the more' and caused consternation in the ranks of the Jews. ... [P]ower was bestowed upon him, and this in increasing measure as his work went on. ... 'Proving that this one is the Christ,' the Messiah promised by the Scriptures, indicates how the Jews were confounded. Those proofs were conclusive, overwhelming, and silenced the opponents." [ref]
    ■ Polhill: "Luke described [Saul] as 'proving' (symbibazō) that Jesus is the Christ. The Greek word means to join or put together and seems to picture his assembling Old Testament texts to demonstrate how Christ fulfilled them." [ref]
    ■ Witherington: "If first impressions are important, then the point of [Acts 9:21-22] is to indicate that Paul was an effective rhetor or apologete. We already here see the pattern Luke uses throughout Acts -- Paul, even as late as Acts 28:17–29, preaches first to the Jews and then turns to Gentiles when rejected by his ethnic kin." [ref]
  • (Acts 9:23-25) After many days Saul experiences for the first time what would become an oft repeated response to his ministry. The Jews plot to kill him, but his disciples help him to escape unharmed by letting him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket. Keener: "Houses were sometimes built into city walls; Saul's escape method has biblical precedent (Josh 2:15; 1 Sam 19:12)." [ref]
Saul Preaches Christ (Acts 9:20-22)
There was little difference between the final days of the apostle Paul and his first days as a follower of Christ. (More ...)

Courage And Effectiveness
William Barclay notes how this entire incident is a witness both to Paul's courage and to the effectiveness of his preaching.
This incident is a witness to Paul's courage. He must have seen the great gathering against him in the synagogues. He knew what had happened to Stephen, he knew what he had intended to do to the Christians and he knew what could happen to him. Clearly Christianity for him was not going to be easy but the whole tone of the incident shows to him who can read between the lines that Paul revelled in these dangers. They gave him a chance to demonstrate his new-found loyalty to that Master whom he had persecuted and whom now he loved.

It is also a witness to the effectiveness of Paul's preaching. He was so unanswerable that the Jews, helpless in debate, resorted to violence. No one persecutes a man who is ineffective. George Bernard Shaw once said that the biggest compliment you can pay an author is to burn his books. Someone else has said, "A wolf will never attack a painted sheep." Counterfeit Christianity is always safe; real Christianity is always in peril. To suffer persecution is to be paid the greatest of compliments because it is the certain proof that men think we really matter. [ref]
  • (Acts 9:26) Saul makes it to Jerusalem but receives a cold welcome from the fearful, skeptical disciples there. Bruce notes how Saul was caught between a rock and a hard place: "When Saul returned to Jerusalem, he was in a difficult position. His old associates knew all about his defection, and he could expect no friendly welcome from them. On the other hand, the disciples of Jesus, with whom he now wished to associate himself, had not forgotten his campaign of persecution. One can scarcely feel surprise at their suspicion when he made overtures to them. The role of the agent provocateur was as familiar in antiquity as in more recent times; what assurance had they that this was not a scheme of Saul’s to gain their confidence for their more effective undoing?" [ref]
  • (Acts 9:27) Barnabus proves true to his name ("son of encouragement") by introducing Saul to the apostles and vouching for the authenticity of both his conversion experience and his ministry in Damascus. Bruce: "When Saul desperately needed a true friend in Damascus, Ananias played that part to him; now, when he stood in equal need of one in Jerusalem, he found a friend in Barnabas. And Barnabas’s prestige with the apostles and other believers in Jerusalem was such that when he gave them his guarantee that Saul was now a true disciple of Jesus, they were reassured." [ref]
The Place Of Encouragers Today
Ajith Fernando:
We can imagine Saul's despair, loneliness, and disappointment when other Christians rejected him. He later expounded deeply about the "in Christ" existence, according to which earthly barriers are broken because we are one body in Christ. Yet the members of that body did not trust him. How many bright new Christians face such loneliness and disappointment! It can lead to despair and bitterness. But God often provides a way of healing in the form of an encourager. Would that there were more Ananiases and Barnabases in our churches!

The risk Barnabas took was immense. Was Saul a spy? His fiery enthusiasm and outspoken boldness would have provoked negative reactions in some of the more sober elders. Who is this young upstart, who goes to extremes in everything he does? He must be an unbalanced individual, for once he was violently opposing Christianity and now he is vigorously defending it. Yet Barnabas stuck his neck out to support Saul. He was willing to take that risk. When we glorify risk-taking today, most often we do so about our personal exploits. Here is another type of risk-taking: accepting new people and pushing them forward. This is Christian risk-taking. Because Christianity is a religion of love, some of our greatest exploits are ventures of love. Taking the risk of believing people is one such venture.

Barnabas also encouraged Saul by telling the apostles Saul's story. In order to be able to do this, he had first listened to that story. Often leaders are so interested in telling their own story that they have no time to listen to those of others. By telling the apostles Saul's story, Barnabas acted as a public relations man for the junior person. Normally public relations work is done for leaders by the juniors, but here that order is reversed. Paul often did the same sort of things in his letters. He gives, for example, glowing tributes of younger, lesser-known people, such as Titus and Timothy (e.g., 2 Cor. 8:16-24; Phil. 2:19-24). [ref]
  • (Acts 9:28-30) For about two weeks (see Gal 1:18) Saul enjoys an unrestrained and robust ministry in Jerusalem when once again there arises a plot to kill him, this time from the Hellenistic Jews. Once again his fellow Christians rescue him from danger, this time taking him northeast to the coastal city of Caesarea and putting him on a ship due north for his hometown of Tarsus of Cilicia. Arnold: "He may have had family and friends living there since he spent his earliest years there before being sent to Jerusalem for his education. The extensive Jewish population of the area along with the many Gentile sympathizers to Judaism provide an ideal mission field for him to continue fulfilling his divinely given commission. He probably spends between three and four years in Tarsus and the neighboring cities of Cilicia before going to Antioch in 39 or 40 A.D." [ref]
  • (Acts 9) Stott notes several characteristics of Saul's witness. In particular, it was: Christ-centred; given in the power of the Holy Spirit; courageous; and costly. [ref]
Only The Beginning
John Stott notes how a person's conversion is only the beginning:
[W]e should never be satisfied with a person’s conversion. That is only the beginning. The same grace which brings a person to new birth is able to transform him or her into Christ’s image. Every new convert becomes a changed person, and has new titles to prove it, namely
  • a ‘disciple’ (Acts 9:26) or ‘saint’ (Acts 9:13), newly related to God,
  • a ‘brother’ (Acts 9:17) or sister, newly related to the church, and
  • a ‘witness’ (Acts 22:15; 26:16), newly related to the world.
If these three relationships -- to God, the church and the world -- are not seen in professed converts, we have good reason to question the reality of their conversion. But whenever they are visibly present, we have good reason to magnify the grace of God. [ref]

Three Lessons
R. Kent Hughes:
There are at least three applications from all this. First, God does everything possible to do away with the energy of our human flesh in order to teach us that without him we can do nothing. Whether this happens through a professional job situation, a death in the family, or some other failure or burden, we all come to the end of ourselves from time to time. God loves to renew and re-enable the person who comes to such a point. Dead end today -- unlimited vistas tomorrow!

Second, in the service of Christ no one is indispensable. We may think we are the only ones who can fill a certain hole (pastoring a particular church, teaching an adult Sunday school class, directing a kids' program, training others for door-to-door evangelism, or whatever). A friend of mine used to say, "When you think you are indispensable, go stick your hand in a pail of water, then pull it out and see what kind of hole is left." The church will go on fine without you or me, and God sometimes lets us know that by putting us on the shelf for a while as he prepares us for further (and even greater) service.

Third, it takes time to build a life that is eminently usable in the program of God. Do not undervalue times out of the mainstream, times to recharge or rest or become further trained. In such times God prepares us for fast-moving currents that will take us to high seas of effectiveness. [ref]
  • (Acts 9:31) Luke presents another one of his summary statements regarding the Church.
    ■ Witherington: "[Acts 9:31] should be compared to the previous summary statement in [Acts 6:7]. Such a comparison suggests that Luke is attempting to convey to Theophilus the sense of growth in numbers, the exemplary devotion of the disciples, the geographical spreading out of the church, and also the increase in danger as time went on." [ref]
    ■ Lenski: "After Saul had been converted, the persecution of which he had been the driving spirit ceased. And Saul was now some distance removed, a renewal of persecution that might be prompted by the hatred the Jews might manifest toward the Christian Paul was obviated. It was thus that the church had peace, meaning quiet and rest." [ref]
    ■ Stott: "[T]he world’s opposition did not impede the spread of the gospel or the growth of the church. On the contrary, Luke ends his narrative of Saul’s conversion, which culminated in his providential escape from danger, with another of his summary verses (Acts 9:31). He describes the church, which has now spread throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria, as having five characteristics -- peace (free from external interference), strength (consolidating its position), encouragement (enjoying paraklesis, the special ministry of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete), growth (multiplying numerically) and godliness (living in the fear of the Lord)." [ref]
    ■ Dunn: "Luke may deliberately have left it ambiguous whether 'the Lord' is God or Christ (cf. Acts 2:21), allowing further reminder of the two clearest marks of Christian identity, the Lord and the Spirit. 'The encouragement of the Holy Spirit' is an important reminder that Luke's understanding of the Spirit was not all in terms of speaking in tongues and inspiration. 'Encouragement/comfort' is one of the functions of the Spirit which all the principal New Testament writers prized (John 14:26; 15:26; Rom. 12:8; I Cor. 14:3). The overall impression is of a period of relative peace, consolidation and steady growth." [ref]
    ■ Toussaint: "The church was still confined to Jews, half-Jews (the Samaritans), and proselytes to Judaism who became Christians (with the one exception of the eunuch from Ethiopia, 8:26–40). But all was in readiness for the extension of the church to a new segment of the world’s population." [ref]
Fear And Encouragement
R. C. H. Lenski:
“The fear of the Lord” (Jesus) ... means that the church dreaded to do anything that might displease and offend the Lord. In their daily life and walk the members had Jesus present with them. This is high praise indeed, for this strong motive is largely absent today; church members too often persuade themselves that the Lord does not mind their worldliness and love of praise from men.

Combined with this fear was “the encouragement of the Holy Spirit” which ... refers to the Spirit’s ... aid in encouragement, direction, and comfort. As the other Paraclete promised by Jesus, he acted as one called to the side of the believers in order to help them in every way. This presence of the Spirit is always mediated through the Word by means of which he speaks to us and keeps us encouraged and strong in the faith. The early Christians did not listen to the spirit of the world and of the flesh. Very unobtrusively Luke here points to the sources of power in the church. When the members walk with the fear of the Lord before their eyes and with the Spirit’s encouraging voice in their hearts, the church will be strong and will also surely multiply. [ref]

Love and Compassion (Acts 9:19-31)
As those who are saved by grace, we should always be ready to demonstrate God's mercy by extending grace to others. (Video link) [ref]


*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.