ACTS - CHAPTER 9
Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2000 James Melough
“And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the
disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,”
No one should fail to note
the close relationship between the persecutor and man’s religion.
Saul and the Jewish priests collaborated in the persecution of the Christians.
In nothing is the enmity between the flesh and the Spirit more easily
discerned than in religion’s adamant hatred of the things of God, and of His
people. It is at the hand of man’s
religious institutions that the people of God have suffered the bitterest persecution
down through the ages. Note for example
the persecution of the prophets at the hand of apostate Israel in the OT age; and the
murderous persecution of Christians at the hand of the great harlot travesty, Rome,
which has arrogated the title Church of Christ. History records that the murderous harlot, like her OT counterpart
the equally murderous Jezebel, has stained the earth with the blood of countless
thousands of true believers.
“And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found
any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto
Little did the persecutor
realize how soon his own life was to be drastically changed, so that he who was so
assiduous in bringing men into physical bondage and death, would be equally diligent
in attempting to deliver them from a corresponding spiritual state. By the grace of God, Saul the persecutor, was to become Paul the
apostle. God in His sovereignty choose
an instrument men would have considered very unsuited for the task, and He continues,
many times, to choose instruments men would consider equally unsuited.
Saul, in the ignorance of
his unconverted state, deemed mere human authority sufficient warrant for work he
thought good, but which, he was to learn, was evil.
And so is it still. Many a man
since then has also, in the blindness of his natural state, undertaken a work that
has seemed God-appointed, but which in the sight of God is evil. A lesson we as believers ought to learn from this is the need to
be certain that we undertake only such work as God has gifted us to do, and to which
He has clearly called us. All else will
be at best unfruitful busyness; at worst, positive evil.
A more accurate rendering of
“this way” is the Way, for in the early apostolic age that is what
Christianity was generally called. And
it is surely a strange anomaly that Jerusalem, God’s city, and meaning lay or
set ye double peace, should have become so far removed from Him that it was for
true believers the place of persecution, imprisonment and death.
With the temporary ending of the Jewish age in AD 70 (to be resumed again
following the rapture of the Church), Rome, the center of the Christian
“religion,” has taken the place of Jerusalem which had become, not the city of
God, but the earthly center of “the Jews’ religion.” Mere “religion” (Jewish or Christian) is a deadly thing,
inimical to God and those who belong to Him. There
will be no peace for the world until the Lord Jesus Christ rules from Jerusalem, nor
can there be peace in a man’s heart until Christ reigns in that heart as Savior and
“And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round
about him a light from heaven:”
Since clearly the proper
names of Scripture have a spiritual message which is conveyed in their meanings, we
shouldn’t neglect trying to determine whether the reference to Damascus may have
such a message for us here. It means silent
is the sackcloth weaver, a second meaning, related to a variant spelling, being sackcloth
(weaver) is going about (or dwelling). From
earliest times the city has been associated with weaving, our word damask
being derived from the name Damascus. Inasmuch
as sackcloth is biblically associated with mourning, the silence of the sackcloth
weaver may be the symbolic intimation that spiritually his work had ceased
because the mourning which was the concomitant of Saul’s evil work, was about to
cease, and be replaced with the joy which accompanies the good news henceforth to be
preached by this former persecutor.
The shining round about Saul
of the light from heaven, reminds us that until the spiritual darkness of man’s
natural state is dispelled by the light of the knowledge of God, there can be no
conversion. This is clearly declared at
the very beginning of the Bible, for only the spiritually blind will fail to see in
the recovery of the pre-Adamite ruin described in Ge 1:2, a symbolic picture of the
process by which God recovers man from his spiritually ruined state.
The very first step in that
great work was that, “God said, Let there be light” (Ge 1:3), the NT leaving no
doubt as to the spiritual significance of that act,
“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in
our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of
Jesus Christ” (2 Co 4:6).
“And he fell on the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul,
why persecutest thou me?”
In 1 Co 15:47-48 it is
written, “The first man (Adam) is of the earth, earthy .... (and) as is the earthy,
such are they also that are earthy....” Until
a man accepts that indictment, and is, as it were, like Saul, “smitten to the
earth” by the gospel, i.e., made to see himself as being “earthy,” without one
shred of righteousness, he cannot be saved.
In this connection, it is to
be noted that those who were with Saul also saw the light, heard the voice (but
didn’t understand the words), and also fell to the earth (Ac 26:14), yet as far as
the scriptural record reveals, only Saul was converted.
There are multitudes who
“see the light,” i.e., are aware that there is a God; who “hear a voice,”
i.e., hear the gospel, but who “don’t understand the words,” i.e., they don’t
hear believingly; and who “fall to the earth,” i.e., they will accord God a
certain measure of reverence, but they never get saved.
It is the Lord Himself Who has warned, “Enter ye in at the strait (narrow)
gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and
many there be which go in thereat: Because strait (narrow) is the gate, and narrow is
the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Mt 7:13-14).
The repeated mention of his
name, “Saul, Saul,” reminds us that the One Who knew Saul’s name, and
everything about him, is He Who knows the name and the state of every man.
Nothing can be hidden from Him, Who as the living Word, discerns the thoughts
and intents of every heart.
“Why persecutest thou
me?” The Lord began by revealing to Saul the true nature of the evil work to which
he had given himself so wholeheartedly. What
a shock it must have been to the zealous Pharisee to learn that what he had believed
to be service to God, was the very reverse: it was nothing less than persecution of
the One he thought he was serving.
This reveals the complete
blindness of man in his natural state. He
can comprehend nothing of the things of God.
But the words convey a very
different message to the regenerate man. So
close is the union linking the believer and His Lord, that by the divine reckoning,
what is done to the one is done also to the Other!
In regard to God’s earthly people Israel, the assurance was given, “He
that toucheth you toucheth the apple (pupil) of his (God’s) eye” (Zec 2:8).
The redeemed, whether of the OT or NT age, are precious to God, and it
behooves us to treat them accordingly.
Having regard to the fact
that nothing can happen apart from God’s permission or direction, the believer,
amid all the varied circumstances of life, can rest in the assurance that “All
things - persecution as well as
blessing, sickness as well as health, poverty as well as wealth, loneliness as well
as companionship - work together for good to them that love God” (Ro 8:28).
The man who holds tenaciously to the truth of that promise, is he who can say
truthfully with the Psalmist, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he
leadeth me beside the still waters. He
restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s
sake” (Ps 23:2-3).
Though he little knew it,
Saul was about to become such a man.
“And he said, Who art thou Lord? And
the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against
He who would live eternally
must know Christ as Savior and Lord, and it is instructive to note that the Lord
revealed Himself to Saul by His human name Jesus, meaning Savior, for, in
common with all men, Saul must first know Him as Savior.
“... whom thou persecutest.” As noted already, this is the assurance that the Lord counts what
is done to His own as having been done to Him.
It is generally recognized
that the words “it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” do not appear
here in the original manuscripts, but that the Lord uttered them is declared by Paul
in Ac 26:14. The pricks are
literally goads used to prod cattle, and are used here figuratively to
describe the process by which the Lord sought to turn Saul from the path of folly to
one of obedience. Whether the reference
is to prickings of conscience isn’t stated, but may perhaps be presumed.
“And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?
And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told
thee what thou must do.”
It is likewise recognized
that the words, “And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me
to do? And the Lord said unto him” do
not appear here in the original manuscripts, but that the Lord uttered them is
declared also by Paul in his rehearsal of the event in Ac 22:10.
That Saul’s will was
involved is made very clear in Ac 26:19, “Wherefore, O king Agrippa, I was not
disobedient unto the heavenly vision.” No
man can be saved apart from a free-willed acceptance of Christ as Savior. God causes His Holy Spirit to strive with sinners, but He stops
short of compelling them to be saved. Saul
was no more compelled to be saved than is any other sinner.
His words, “Lord, what
wilt thou have me to do?” express what ought to be the attitude of every believer. Jesus Christ must not only be trusted as Savior, but obeyed also
as Lord. We should note that the Lord
Himself didn’t immediately answer Saul’s question, having chosen rather to use
Ananias as the instrument through whom Saul would not only receive instruction, but
also receive his sight again.
God deigns to use human
instruments, and if we but understood what a privilege it is to be such an
instrument, we would be more diligent in our service.
The spiritual significance
of his being commanded to “go into the city,” isn’t readily apparent, but since
clearly there was a company of believers there, it may be meant to teach us that
every new convert, like Saul, must be prepared to take his place in the fellowship of
a local assembly, so as to profit by the ministry of those who constitute that
“And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but
seeing no man.”
obviously heard the same voice as he, but only he understood what was said; and
immediately some will conclude that Saul was therefore predestined to be
saved. Such a conclusion, however, is
the result of leaving out of the reckoning God’s foreknowledge.
He foreknows who will believe the gospel, and also who will reject it, and in
His sovereignty chooses to bring the gospel to some of those foreknown rejecters,
while withholding it from others, nor has He chosen to reveal to us why He makes that
sovereign choice. That is His divine
prerogative, but it is never to be confused with what is also his sovereign
right, i.e., to also predestinate, though it can’t be emphasized too much that one
of the things He does not predestinate is who will, and who will not be saved.
He leaves that choice with the individual.
Many hear the voice of God
through the gospel, but only those who believe “see” the Lord Jesus Christ as
“And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no
man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.”
It would seem that his
rising from the earth, and the three days of blindness, correspond to a period of
conviction, his actual conversion being at the moment when he received his sight.
A truth largely ignored today is that apart from conviction of sin, there can
be no genuine conversion. Their leading
him by the hand reminds us that during the period of conviction, God very frequently
uses others to lead the sinner to the Savior.
Since, as noted in our study
of verse 3, Damascus, associated literally with the weaving of sackcloth, appears to
be symbolically associated with mourning, so that Saul’s being brought there may
speak of the mourning or repentance that ought to be the result of the conviction
which precedes genuine conversion.
“And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.”
As noted already, those
three days of blindness correspond to the spiritual experience of conviction.
His neither eating nor drinking therefore, would remind us that when a sinner
is brought face to face with the reality of sin and its terrible consequences, the
ordinary things of life become of little concern.
The salvation of his soul becomes his paramount concern.
The fact that that period of
total fasting lasted for three days has also its lesson, for since three is the
biblical number of resurrection, God would remind us that it is His desire that
conviction produce conversion, i.e., resurrection out of spiritual death.
Sadly, however, there are those for whom God’s wish never becomes reality.
They resist the striving of the Holy Spirit until He ceases to strive, and
thereafter they drift on to eternal destruction without ever having another anxious
thought about their souls. He is of all
fools the greatest who ignores the warning, “My Spirit shall not always strive with
man” (Ge 6:3), “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly
be destroyed, and that without remedy” (Pr 29:1).
In spite of the fact that
“The Lord ... is longsuffering ... not willing that any should perish, but that all
should come to repentance” (2 Pe 3:9), the truth is that only a few accept the
Savior, while millions perish, not because God has predestinated that they should,
but because they refuse to come and be saved, as the Lord Himself has declared, “Ye
will not come to me, that ye might have life” (Jn 5:40).
“And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him
said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And
he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.”
It would be difficult to
find two greater opposites than this obedient servant, and his namesake of chapter 5. The name, incidentally, means the grace of God.
His being at Damascus may be intended to remind us that the repentance, of
which Damascus seems to speak, and which should produce conversion, ought to have a
lifelong sanctifying effect on the man, the recollection of his former state causing
him to remember the extent of his indebtedness to God’s grace.
It seems to have been so in the present instance.
The fact that God spoke to
him in a vision, reminds us that it was still a Jewish age during which the
millennial kingdom was still being offered to Israel.
With the ending of Jewish autonomy in AD 70, and the completion of the canon
of Scripture within a few years following, however, visions ceased, God thereafter
speaking to men from the written Word.
The implicit obedience
indicated in his response, “Behold, I am here, Lord,” ought to mark every
“And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called
Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for,
behold, he prayeth,”
incidentally, means level, not to be confused with “strait,” which means narrow.
It is fitting that Saul
should be found in the house of Judas, which means praise, for surely the
imminent conversion of this one-time persecutor of the saints, was cause for praise,
on his own part, for salvation, and on the part of the believers, for deliverance
from his persecution.
Tarsus means a flat
basket, and there may be a deeper significance to this than appears at first
glance. Le 8:31 speaks of the “basket
of consecrations,” and in 2 Tim 4:6 Paul describes himself as a sacrifice ready to
be offered. God foreknew Saul of Tarsus
as the consecrated Paul the apostle, and one can only wonder whether He “Who
worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph 1:11), hadn’t ordained
that the birthplace of Saul should be, in the very meaning of its name, the
“basket” that would bring forth this man, who from the moment of his conversion,
was indeed a consecrated offering to God.
“... behold, he prayeth.”
As a devout Pharisee, Saul must often have prayed ritually, but this was the
first prayer that meant anything to God. He
to Whom loveless ritual is an abomination delights to hear the cry that originates in
a broken and contrite heart (Ps 51:17).
“And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his
hand on him, that he might receive his sight.”
The Jewish age hadn’t yet
ended. There were still visions, a mode of divine communication that
didn’t end until the completion of the canon of Scripture.
Ananias means the grace
of God, but Saul was about to see more than the literal man: he would see the
grace of God which the man’s name declared. Had
God perhaps, foreknowing this moment, moved the parents to call their son Ananias?
“... putting his hand on
him.” This is also Jewish. There
is no laying on of hands in connection with Gentiles.
“... that he might receive
his sight.” Saul was about to receive
more than mere physical sight, for since literal blindness is the scriptural figure
of a corresponding spiritual state, it seems that this was the actual moment of his
“Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much
evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:”
He whose name speaks of
grace, grasped but little at that moment apparently what power there is in grace to
change men’s lives, even that of the persecutor whose ill repute was known to
God’s people far beyond Jerusalem. The
God of all grace would so change Saul’s life that the name once synonymous with
evil would be synonymous eternally with a sacrificial obedience that is
eclipsed only by that of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
“And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on
In the view of man, the
authority which empowered Saul’s evil activity must have appeared virtually
invincible, but how different things become when God is brought into the reckoning!
He who had been intent upon binding those who confessed Christ, would
henceforth be one of God’s most effective instruments for the deliverance of men
and woman from spiritual bondage, the number of those emancipated through his
preaching of the gospel far exceeding that of those he had had imprisoned and killed
when he served Satan.
“But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me,
to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:”
God acts sovereignly in
bestowing spiritual gift, but He leaves with each believer the choice of how the
given gift will be used, even though by His foreknowledge He knows that some will
neglect the gift and refuse to use it. By
that same foreknowledge He knew what a faithful servant Saul would be.
A lesson we would do well to
learn in connection with Ananias and Saul relates to our own service.
Saul (later to become Paul) was called to a public and geographically very
extensive ministry, while Ananias appears briefly on the scene, this, as far as the
biblical record is concerned, being the only mention of his work, yet he was no less
God’s servant than was Paul. It is the same in every generation.
It is God Who appoints each
servant’s sphere of work, and one ought not to envy another, but to be careful to
be faithful in that which God has given Him to do, leaving for the judgment seat of
Christ the appraisal and recompense of his service.
“For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s
The Lord Himself has warned
every believer, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I
have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33), but Paul’s trials were to be exceptional. In this warning to Paul and to all believers, we learn the truth
that God calls no one into His service without warning them of the cost, but against
the warning is His promise, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered
into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him”
(1 Co 2:9). Paul, having experienced
some of those sufferings, could still say, “But what things were gain to me, those
I counted loss for Christ. Yea
doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of
Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count
them but dung, that I may win Christ....” (Php 3:7-8).
How small even the greatest
earthly sacrifice will seem from the perspective of heaven, and in comparison to the
“And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands
on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way
as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled
with the Holy Ghost.”
This laying on of hands
reminds us that Judaism had not yet passed away.
The millennial kingdom was still being offered to Israel, that offer not being
withdrawn until AD 70 when Jewish autonomy came to an end.
His form of address,
“Brother Saul,” declares what transformation is wrought by the gospel.
The former foe has now become a brother of those he had formerly persecuted.
the Lord, even Jesus.” When Christ
spoke to Saul in verse 5 He said, “I am Jesus,” because Saul needed a Savior; but
here Ananias calls Him first Lord, for now the matter concerns, not salvation, but
service. The Jesus Who is trusted as
Savior must be obeyed as Lord.
“... that appeared unto
thee.” Christ must be revealed to the sinner who would be saved.
“... in the way.” Though he didn’t then realize it, it was for Saul, as it is for
every man born into this world, the broad and crowded way of death.
“... as thou camest.” He came
thinking he was doing God’s work. So
do many on that same way of death.
“... that thou mightest
receive thy sight.” Restoration of
physical sight is symbolic of the recovery of spiritual sight.
“... and be filled with
the Holy Ghost.” Possessing the Holy
Spirit is not the same thing as being filled with Him.
Possession is a
once-not-to-be-repeated experience that occurs the moment the sinner trusts the
Savior, and is common to all believers. Filling, however, fluctuates, and is governed
by obedience, being complete when obedience is complete, and being diminished in
proportion to the degree of the believer’s disobedience.
“And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he
received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.”
Since the healing of literal
blindness is a very obvious type of spiritual healing, it seems that this is the
actual moment of Saul’s conversion, his experiences between his being stricken with
blindness and the present moment, corresponding to the period of conviction preceding
conversion, for in spite of what is being taught today to the contrary, there is no
conversion apart from conviction.
Scales is literally flakes
of dead skin, and it isn’t difficult to see in these scales the figure of the
wrong beliefs that had blinded his eyes, as they do the eyes of multitudes today.
Essential to conversion is the abandonment of all similar beliefs.
As lying and sitting speak
of rest, “rising up” speaks of activity, so Paul’s rising up to be baptized
declares the truth that conversion introduces us to the opportunity to render service
to the Lord Who has bought us. But there
can be no service apart from obedience. Saul’s
first act was to be baptized, which speaks of being dead to the world, but also of
walking in newness of life in eternal union with a resurrected Savior.
There is the power for service.
His being baptized
immediately after conversion announces the need to have the profession of the lips
confirmed by an obedient life, for baptism is the first step of what ought to be an
obedient walk, though it must be emphasized that baptism itself adds nothing to the
convert’s salvation which is complete the moment he trusts Christ as His personal
“And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain
days with the disciples which were at Damascus.”
He who would serve must
first be fed with the Word, for it strengthens him, instructs him, keeps him clean,
and refreshes him. To divorce zeal
from knowledge is to subject ourselves to the same censure as did Israel, of whom
Paul wrote, “They have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge” (Ro 10:2).
Misdirected zeal may do more harm than good.
The time he spent with the
disciples in Damascus is unknown, Gal 1:17 telling us simply that from Damascus he
went to Arabia, and after a stay there of unspecified duration, returned to Damascus.
We do well to note that Moses, another great servant of God, had a similar
experience. Following his first abortive
attempt to deliver Israel, he had to spend forty years in the desert before coming
forth, in God’s time, to accomplish that great work.
Nor should we forget that the Lord Himself spent thirty years in obscurity
before beginning His public ministry. Public
service must be preceded by preparatory time “in the desert.”
Too many today bypass that experience, the price paid for that shortcut being
that they accomplish little of worth for eternity.
“And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of
The newest convert can also
“preach Christ,” for he can at least tell others how he was saved, and therefore
how they too can be saved. No greater
sermon can be preached.
“... in the synagogues.”
He preached first to his own people, the Jews, and this is God’s pattern for
every believer. The disciples preached
first to those in Jerusalem, then to Samaria, and then to the whole world.
Note the same pattern in connection with the former demoniac of Gadara (Lk 8
and Mk 5). He preached first to his own
house, then to the whole city, and then to Decapolis, i.e., the ten-city region.
Our witness must begin with our own families.
Faithfulness in small things leads to our being entrusted with greater things.
“... that He is the Son of
God.” This the Jews would not believe, and it cost them the kingdom and
their souls, for no man can be saved apart from confession of this belief.
“But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed
them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he
might bring them bound unto the chief priests?”
Conversion wrought a
complete change in Saul, as it should in every man.
The zeal that had impelled his activity against Christianity, was now excelled
by that which governed his service for Christ.
The Church would be in a happier state if something of that same zeal
Destroyed is literally ravaged
“them which called on this name,” and conveys some idea of his vicious hatred of
those who belonged to Christ. Such was
the transformation wrought by grace in the life of this one-time persecutor, however,
that he was for ever after willing to lay down his life for their sakes.
Such love is the hallmark of a genuine conversion, the Lord Himself declaring,
“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to
another” (Jn 13:35). (It is to be
noted incidentally, that it is to, not for one another.
The thought is that we are to act toward all believers as we would toward
those we love, no matter how unlovable some of those believers may be).
“... bring them bound.”
He who was formerly devoted to bringing men into bondage, was now dedicated to
having them find true freedom through faith in Christ.
“... unto the chief
priests.” His masters were once religious, but evil men, and it may be that
his memories of that thraldom had some part at least in prompting his warning, “Be
not ye the servants of men” (1 Co 7:23).
“But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which
dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.”
The secret of Saul’s
strength was his confession of his own weakness, and the acknowledgment of his total
dependence upon God, Whose reply to his plea for removal of the thorn in his flesh
had been, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in
weakness,” an answer which produced, not a disgruntled spirit, but rather the
exultant response, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities,
that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore
I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in
distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Co
12:8-10). That same strength is
available to all who have Saul’s submissive spirit.
“... and confounded the
Jews.” The term Jews always has a bad scriptural connotation,
being used almost invariably to denote the people in their self-willed rebellion
against God; and there is little reason to belief that it was any different in the
present instance. Human wisdom, however,
can’t compete with that which is spiritual. “The
fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” (Pr 9:10).
“... proving that this is
very Christ (i.e., that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah).”
How he proved this isn’t disclosed, but many ways suggest themselves.
The OT types, for example, can’t be dismissed as mere coincidences.
And then there is, as Peter says, the “more sure word of prophecy; whereunto
ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the
day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts” (2 Pe 1:19).
In addition to Daniel’s prophecy of the seventy weeks (Dan 9:24-27) which
specifies the exact day of Christ’s presentation of Himself as the Messiah, there
are many others, e.g., those relating to the place and manner of His birth, and also
His death, etc. Then there were the
miracles He had performed, as well as those performed by the apostles.
The student of Scripture will be at no loss for material with which to also
confound the skeptics.
“And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill
Many Bible scholars believe
that the “many days” included the time spent in Arabia.
Be that as it may, the fact remains that Saul’s preaching infuriated the
Jews, for the basis of his preaching was (as it must be of all effective preaching)
that this Jesus whom they had crucified, was the Son of God.
The murderous hatred which would be satisfied with nothing less than the death
of the faithful preacher, was more than that of the Jews: the same malignant hatred
lodges in every unredeemed heart, though often carefully disguised under the cloak of
religion. But let the unadulterated
gospel be preached and see how quickly the mask is removed. The
peace that prevails between an apostate professing church and a Christ-hating world
does so only because the biblical gospel is not preached.
Nor should anyone fail to comprehend the full extent of the world’s hatred.
As it would be satisfied with nothing less than the death of Christ, neither
will it be satisfied with anything less than the death of those, who like Him, would
faithfully declare man’s ruined state and desperate need of that same Jesus as
Savior. The conflict between light and
darkness is to the death!
“But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day
and night to kill him.”
How Saul learned of their
murderous plot isn’t revealed, nor need it concern us.
The fact remains that the Lord was watching over His servant, and informed him
of the plot so that he could act accordingly to ensure his own safety, and a lesson
we may learn from this is that the Lord won’t do for us what He has enabled us to
do for ourselves. The revelation of the
plot was as much an evidence of His watchful care as if He had miraculously spirited
The unrelenting hatred of
the Jews is further emphasized in that they watched the gates “day and night,”
and the lesson for us is that we can never afford to be off our guard against the
wiles of the evil one who inspires man’s hatred of God and of those who belong to
Him. As God watches over His own by day
and by night, so does Satan also watch over them, but to inflict harm.
“Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.”
This would teach that the
walk of faith is not divorced from reason or “common sense.”
The revelation of the Jewish plot was obviously also a revelation of the fact
that it wasn’t God’s will for His servant to remain in Damascus.
Quite often He reveals His will, not by means of miracles, but through
circumstances, a fact which dictates the need, not to rail against circumstances, but
to examine them to find out whether they are, in fact, the means by which God has
chosen to disclose His will.
2 Co 11:32-33 adds the
further detail that the Jews had enlisted the aid of the local garrison in their
efforts to apprehend Saul, as it informs us also that the basket was let down through
a window. The history of the persecution
of God’s people in every age is a catalog of the collusion between religion and
government, e.g., the Jewish religious leaders and the Romans in connection with the
death of Christ; the collaboration between Papal Rome and the governments of Europe
during the terrible persecutions of the dark ages.
It is interesting to note
that in Jsh 2:15 Rahab lowered the two spies from her window down the wall of
Jericho, but a careful study of that episode reveals that those two men are a figure
of Christ, their crossing Jordan once being a type of His death; their being lowered
from the city, a type of His burial; their three days on the mountain hidden from the
eyes of men, a type of His three days in the tomb; and their recrossing Jordan, a
type of His resurrection. Saul’s being
lowered down the wall of Damascus may therefore be an indirect intimation that the
life of the servant was to bear a close resemblance to that of the Master.
In addition to the obvious
necessity of doing this work by night there is the additional assurance, that in ways
unperceived by man, God watches over His own, as one has written:
should I ever careful be,
such a God is mine?
watches o’er me night and day,
tells me, Mine is thine.
“And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the
disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a
Saul’s seeking out the
disciples of Christ conveys a message which, unfortunately, isn’t grasped by many
Christians today, i.e., the need to break ties with the unconverted, and seek the
fellowship of those who belong to Christ. It
is to be remembered that the believers were strangers to Saul, and it might be
supposed that he would have sought the company of his former friends, if for no other
reason than to try to win them to the Savior. But
he didn’t. He sought out the
Christians because though they were literally strangers, they were spiritually his
brothers and sisters, those who shared with him a common life in Christ.
He no longer had anything in common with former friends, even relatives, nor
It is a great mistake to
believe that we will win the unconverted to Christ by maintaining our ties with them,
or by joining in their activities. Inevitably
they will drag us down to their level. We
will never by such methods lift them up to ours.
To be effective, the Christian’s witness must be given from a place of
separation. No one ever pulled a man out
of a quicksand by jumping in beside him, nor are sinners won to Christ by our forming
alliances with them, in spite of what is being advocated to the contrary today.
The demonstration of this truth is found in connection with Abraham and Lot.
The testimony of those amongst whom Abraham lived, but from whom he kept
himself separate, was, “Thou art a mighty prince among us” (Ge 23:6).
It was very different with Lot. The
mocking response of the Sodomites amongst whom he lived, and in whose activities he
joined, was, “This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge,”
the reaction of his sons in law being that, “He seemed as one that mocked....” (Ge
“But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto
them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he
had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.”
This is the same Barnabas
mentioned in 4:36-37, who, having sold a piece of land, brought the money to the
apostles. Of how much greater worth is
what he now brings to them: the great apostle to the Gentiles, through whose ministry
countless multitudes have been led to the Savior!
According to Ga 1:18-19 the
only apostles Saul saw during this visit were Peter, and James the Lord’s brother.
“And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem.”
From Ga 1:18 we learn that
this was for 15 days. We must come in
before we can go out. Time must be spent
in God’s presence before we attempt to go out in service.
The week must begin with worship at the Lord’s table before we can hope to
go out to the world with the gospel.
“And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the
Grecians (Greek-speaking Jews): but they went about to slay him.”
The confidence with which he
spoke is sadly lacking in much of today’s preaching; fear of man, and ignorance of
the Word being the primary causes. It is
no wonder that we see so little response to the gospel, and equally little response
on the part of Christians to the ministry of the Word.
The Greeks are the
representatives of wisdom, that same worldly wisdom marking the Greek-speaking Jews
with whom Saul debated. Such wisdom,
however, is always the foe of faith, and its worth in God’s sight is plainly
declared in 1 Co 1 and 2.
“... but they went about
to slay him.” The hatred of the human
heart against God, His Word, and His people, is deadly, and as noted already, nothing
arouses it more than the preaching of the biblical gospel.
“Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent
him forth to Tarsus.”
This is further confirmation
that faith and reason aren’t mutually exclusive.
God expects us to use the brains He has given us.
There is nothing to indicate that He will do for us what we can do for
Caesarea means severed,
but I regret being unable to see any spiritual significance that might attach to it
in the present context, unless it is to indicate that this departure from Jerusalem
was indicative of the fact that there was no hope of Saul’s ever being reconciled
to his brethren according to the flesh. The
severance was complete, and so must be the break between the flesh and the spirit on
the part of those who would yield obedience to God.
the significance of Tarsus, see notes on verse 11.
“Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria,
and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy
Ghost, were multiplied.”
The enjoyment of rest, and
lack of reference to the churches in the Gentile regions, would seem to confirm that
God was indeed encouraging Israel to believe so that they might enter the
long-promised millennial kingdom, and enjoy its blessings for the last thousand years
of earth’s history, before entering the eternal state to enjoy eternal blessings.
Judaea speaks of praise;
Galilee (always associated with the believing remnant), of our death with Christ; and
Samaria (meaning guardianship), of God’s watchfulness.
Obedience and comfort are inseparable, for the comfort of the Holy Spirit is
available only as He is ungrieved and unquenched.
And another accompaniment of
obedience is fruitfulness: there will be growth both spiritually and numerically, the
latter being not that false growth resulting from the preaching of a spurious gospel,
but the addition of genuine converts to the local assembly.
“And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down
also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda.”
The divine spotlight turns
again briefly upon Peter, the apostle to Israel, as Paul was to the Gentiles, and it
is Peter’s specific sphere of service that lends spiritual significance to his
reappearing here after being last mentioned in 7:25.
The silence relative to him between 7:25 and this present reference (a
parenthesis used to introduce Paul), may correspond to the Church age which comes
also as a parenthesis between the cutting off of Israel, and God’s resumed dealings
with her in the Tribulation. Lydda means
travail, and significantly the Tribulation era is described as the time of
Israel’s travail, see e.g., Re 12:2; Isa 66:7-8; Jer 30:6-7. This resumption of the account of Peter records his activity
within the territory of Israel.
“And there he found a certain man named Aeneas, which had kept his bed for
eight years, and was sick of the palsy.”
Aeneas, meaning to praise,
is seen by some as a type of Israel, his palsied condition being figurative of her
spiritual state during this present Church age.
Eight, however, is the biblical number of a new beginning, so that the
duration of his sickness, now about to end, declares symbolically that Israel’s
“palsied” state will also end, giving place to a new beginning as a repentant and
converted nation, that recovery being represented by his healing at the hand of
Additional to this possible
prophetic significance is the practical truth that his palsy is figurative of the
spiritual condition of all men, and his healing figurative of the spiritual renewal
available to all who will trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.
“And Peter said unto him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and
make thy bed. And he arose
Continuing to view this
paralytic as a type of Israel being healed spiritually in the soon-coming
Tribulation, we note that Peter presents him with Jesus (meaning Savior), and with
Christ (the Lord’s title as Israel’s Messiah).
Israel will be saved only when she believes that the Jesus she rejected and
crucified two thousand years ago, is her Savior Messiah.
But associated with the title Messiah is the thought of lordship, and the
lesson being taught is that whether in relation to Israel or the individual sinner,
salvation cannot be separated from the Lord’s control of the life.
The confession of the lips must be confirmed by an obedient life, and he who
makes the former while refusing to yield the latter, makes suspect his profession of
faith, for the one is a contradiction of the other.
“Jesus Christ maketh thee whole.”
Peter was careful to give all the glory to God.
It is not to be presumed that the healing of Aeneas was only physical.
The Lord never does anything by halves. When
He saves, He saves completely: for time as well as eternity, body as well as soul,
for the believer’s earthly body is to be replaced with one that is incorruptible,
glorious, powerful, spiritual (1 Co 15:42-44). Those
believers who pass out of the Tribulation into the Millennium will never die, for
when that long era of earthly blessing comes to an end, they will pass into the
enjoyment of eternal blessings when the present earth and starry heavens are replaced
with new ones. And so also with the
believers of this and past ages: death merely causes their bodies to sleep until the
resurrection of life. The believer is
never spoken of as having died, but as having fallen asleep.
The raising of believers’
bodies at the resurrection of life does not imply that all of them will be raised at
the same instant. Scripture makes it
clear that the resurrection of life is in three stages: “Christ the firstfruits;
afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming” (1 Cor 15:23); but there are two
comings: one for the Church; and the other for Israel, the seven years of the
Tribulation era being the final “week” of the Jewish age, so that the Church-age
saints will be raised before the Tribulation begins; Israel (OT and Tribulation age
saints), at the end of the Tribulation.
Nor should we miss the
significance of his being told to “make thy bed.”
Associated with rising is the thought of activity, and the lesson being taught
in Peter’s command is that conversion introduces the convert to a state, not only
of spiritual life, but also of active service for the Lord.
Converted Israel will be
God’s witness to the nations as she rules over the millennial earth.
We too are to be His witnesses, going into all the world to preach the gospel
to every creature (Mk 16:15), and then ruling with Him for ever over the whole
“And he arose immediately.”
Conversion is not a gradual process. It
is instantaneous. One doesn’t pass
gradually from spiritual death to spiritual life.
The period of conviction that precedes conversion is not a part of it, but
rather that which helps to bring it about, and must not be mistaken for the
A word of explanation may
perhaps be helpful here relative to the converted Israel that will pass from the
Tribulation into the Millennium. In Isa
66:8 it is written, “Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a
nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her
children.” This has led some to
conclude, wrongly, that the conversion of Israel will occur at that instant when the
Lord returns in power and glory to end the Tribulation and inaugurate His millennial
kingdom. On the contrary, beginning with
the conversion of the 144,000 Jews after the rapture of the Church, Jews (and
Gentiles) will continue to be saved throughout the Tribulation era, but it won’t be
until the Lord has completed His judgment of the nations in the interval between the
end of the Tribulation and the beginning of the Millennium, that those converts will
be given corporate identity, the saved Jews constituting the new nation of
Israel; and the saved Gentiles, the nations that will pass with Israel into the
Millennium, the banishment of the unbelieving nations into hell being the equivalent
of the discarding of the placenta following a natural birth.
The Tribulation era, during which the corporate body of converted
Israel and of the converted nations will be developing as new converts are added
daily, corresponds to the normal period of gestation during which a human fetus
develops. It is that corporate national
birth that will be instantaneous, not only for Israel, but also for the Gentile
nations that will be saved in the Tribulation.
“And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron (Sharon) saw him, and turned to the
This is clearly a figure of
speech meaning only that many became believers; but God does nothing
capriciously, and here it seems that the purpose of the metaphor is to enhance the
clarity of the prophetic picture. As
noted already Lydda means travail, while Saron means rightness.
Is there perhaps in this reference to righteousness following travail, a
veiled allusion to the fact that the travail of the Tribulation will be followed by
the righteousness that will characterize the Millennium as the Tribulation-age
converts pass into the enjoyment of the millennial earth?
“Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by
interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds
which she did.”
“And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when
they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber.”
“And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that
Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to
come to them.”
“Then Peter arose and went with them. When
he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him
weeping, and shewing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with
“But Peter put them all forth, and turning him to the body said, Tabitha
arise. And she opened her eyes: and when
she saw Peter, she sat up.”
“And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the
saints and widows, presented her alive.”
“And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord.”
Verse 36 introduces a
completely new section, the truth of which is perceived more clearly when it is
realized that in it God is presenting symbolically what is yet to be.
Joppa means fair to him;
the Hebrew name Tabitha, a gazelle; and Dorcas, the Greek form of that name,
meaning also a gazelle; and here again some see in the resurrection of this
woman another symbolic picture of the resurrection of Israel nationally at the end of
the Tribulation. While there may be room
for such an interpretation, there is, however, the possibility that God is giving us,
not a second symbolic picture of the same truth as is declared in the healing of
Aeneas, but a new and different figure, Tabitha or Dorcas being a figure of Israel,
but from a very different perspective.
It may be that God intends
us to see in her a figure of the believing remnant within the professing, but
apostate mass of the nation in the early apostolic age.
Had that believing remnant been joined by the majority of the nation, those
believers would have become the new Israel that would have experienced seven years of
tribulation, and then have passed into the enjoyment of millennial blessings.
The lack of that belief on the part of the majority, however, caused the
believing remnant to “die” as the representative of the nation, but then to be
“resurrected” as the nucleus of a new corporate body, spiritual Israel,
the Gentile Church. The very fact that
this godly woman is designated by two names, one Hebrew, the other Greek (Gentile) -
and mentioned in that same order - appears to support this view.
“And it came to pass, that he tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a
In the context of what we
have just been considering, the “many days” may point symbolically to the long
duration of the Millennium, Joppa meaning fair to him, being a picture, not
only of the renewed millennial earth, but also of the redeemed who will dwell on that
earth. Simon, meaning hearkening,
and portraying obedience, may well be a figure of the obedience that will prevail
during the Millennium, that of the redeemed being yielded gladly, that of the
unconverted being compelled.
Simon’s trade as a tanner
is also significant, for inasmuch as the hide is the animal’s covering or
“garment,” and garments are the Biblical symbol of righteousness, it isn’t
difficult to see in Simon’s work an analogy between the literal and the spiritual. As he whose name signifies obedience, worked with that which
portrays righteousness, so will it be in the Millennium: it will be the willingly
given obedience of believers, and the compelled obedience of unbelievers, that will
produce the righteousness which will mark the Millennium.
The fact that Peter, the apostle to Israel, dwelt with Simon many days,
reminds us that in that coming glorious age, an obedient Israel, and the equally
obedient Gentiles, will dwell with the righteousness that will make the millennial
earth a spiritual Joppa - fair to Him.
Grant in The Numerical
Bible, p.72, offers a further suggestion relative to Simon the tanner, “The
occupation of tanner was considered unclean by the Jews.
A large part of the tanning was the preparation of skins for water bottles.
May there not be a
suggestion here of the passing of that ceremonial uncleanness which is brought out in
the history of Cornelius? Peter was
already lodging at the house of this Simon, a preparer of unclean things to be
vessels for holding pure water. That his
house was by the seaside seems also to suggest the sea of the Gentiles ... upon whose border Peter indeed was.”