What does Acts 9:31 mean?A few short years before, the Pharisee-trained Saul made it his mission to destroy the church. Now, he has become one of the most talented defenders of the gospel: the understanding that Jesus of Nazareth is the Jewish Messiah and the Savior of the world. Unfortunately, his fervor has attracted the attention of Greek-speaking Jews in Jerusalem, and for his own safety he is sent home to Tarsus in modern-day Asia Minor (Acts 9:1–30).
With Saul out of reach, the apostles have a short break from persecution. For believers, the "fear of the Lord" combines a deep respect for God with the understanding that He hates sin. "Comfort" is from the Greek root word paraklēsis, meaning "solace and refreshment." The calm the church in Judea and Samaria are witnessing are the direct work of the Holy Spirit.
As a result of Saul's first wave of persecution, the Jesus-followers in Jerusalem fled, taking the message of Jesus with them (Acts 8:1–3). Some will go west, to Lydda and Joppa, near modern-day Tel Aviv, where Peter will visit them (Acts 9:32–43). From there, Peter will be called to Caesarea Maritima to visit a Roman centurion named Cornelius. He will learn that Jesus is from the Jews and for the Jews, but not exclusively. As God promised Abraham (Genesis 22:18), He chose the Jews to provide a blessing to the world. Peter witnesses this as an entire household of Gentiles comes to faith in Jesus (Acts 10).
Peter's work with the Gentiles in Caesarea provides the foundation for Saul's ministry. Some of the Jewish Christians from the island of Cyprus have taken Jesus' message to Gentiles in Syrian Antioch, nearly 500 miles north. The church there will grow so quickly, the apostles will send Barnabas to make sure the teaching is correct, and Barnabas will ask Saul to come and help him (Acts 11:19–30). The mission-driven church at Antioch will send Barnabas and Saul off to the Greek-speaking world (Acts 13:1–3). Saul will change his name to the Greek variant—Paul (Acts 13:9)—and spend his life reaching Hellenist Jews and Gentiles with the message of Jesus.