What does Acts 9 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
Acts 9 records perhaps the most significant event in the history of the church since the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. Jesus has ascended (Acts 1:6–11). The Jesus-followers have received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1–12). The apostles' teaching that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah has horrified and infuriated the Jewish leadership (Acts 4:1–22; 5:17–42). A deacon named Stephen has defended Jesus, and a mob, unable to refute his logic, has murdered him under the watchful eyes of the Sanhedrin (Acts 6:8—7:60). One of their assistants, a Pharisee-trained young man from Tarsus, the capital of the Roman province of Cilicia, watched the murderers' coats, then won the chief priests' permission to hunt Jesus-followers in Jerusalem (Acts 7:58; 8:1–3). He imprisoned them, voted that they be executed, and tried to force them to blaspheme (Acts 22:19; 26:10–11). In response, the Jesus-followers fled Jerusalem, scattering over Judea, Samaria, and as far as Syrian Antioch, not too far from Tarsus. Along the way, they discovered that God's salvation is for more than the Jews; the Holy Spirit came on Samaritans (Acts 8:14–17) and an Ethiopian government official who worshiped the Jewish God (Acts 8:35–38).

When Saul realizes his persecution has caused Jesus' followers—and their beliefs—to spread, he gains authorization to follow them. Eventually, he travels far north to Damascus to arrest the heretics and bring them back to Jerusalem to stand trial. On his way, however, Jesus shows up, surrounded by the glory of heaven. Jesus reveals to Saul that He is alive. He tells Saul to go into Damascus and wait for a man to tell him what to do. Saul does so, being led by the hand as he has gone blind (Acts 9:1–9).

Meanwhile, Jesus appears to Ananias, one of His followers in Damascus, and tells him where to find Saul. Ananias is understandably nervous as he has heard about Saul's reputation. Jesus reassures Ananias that Saul is chosen to carry the message of salvation to the Gentiles and also reveals he's going to suffer while he does it. Ananias finds Saul, participates in restoring his sight, and tells Saul of his mission to the Gentiles. Saul accepts Christ, receives the Holy Spirit, and is baptized (Acts 9:10–19; 22:12–16).

Where days before Saul was bent on destroying Jesus-followers, now he is driven to make more. He goes first to the synagogues, a habit he will continue in his journeys, and declares that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God and the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Messiah. Eventually, the Jewish leadership in Damascus develops a plot to kill Saul, but he escapes the city when his students let him out a window in the city wall in a basket (Acts 9:19–25).

Eventually, Saul returns to Jerusalem. Again understandably, the much-beleaguered church is reluctant to speak to him. Barnabas, a Jesus-follower from Cyprus (see Acts 4:36–37), trusts Saul and acts as his liaison. Soon, Saul is preaching the gospel in and around Jerusalem, especially to his fellow Greek-influenced Jews—the group that killed Stephen. The Hellenist Jews begin plotting to murder Saul, and the church leadership sends him home to Tarsus. With Saul the persecutor converted to a Jesus-follower and Saul the aggressive evangelist safely several hundred miles away, the church in Jerusalem has a period of peace and growth (Acts 9:26–31).

At some point during this time, Peter goes traveling; he eventually comes to the towns of Lydda and Joppa—both now suburbs of Tel Aviv. In Lydda, Peter heals a paralyzed man named Aeneas and in Joppa he raises the good Tabitha from the dead (Acts 9:32–43).

The two incidents give a nice break in the drama of the story, but they don't seem particularly note-worthy. Peter has healed quite a few people in Jerusalem (Acts 3:1–9; 5:12–16). But this sets up Peter for another significant event. While he is in Joppa, a Gentile centurion will ask him to come north to Caesarea. There, Peter will lay the groundwork for Saul/Paul's future ministry. He will realize and officially validate that Gentiles can follow Jesus, receive forgiveness, and be indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Acts 10). The last step of Jesus' mandate to be His witnesses "in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" will begin (Acts 1:8).
Verse Context:
Acts 9:1–9 tells the story of how the lead persecutor of the early church meets Jesus. Saul, who had arrested the Jesus-followers in Jerusalem (Act 7:58; 8:1–3), expands his terror outside of Judea and travels north to Damascus. Jesus stops Saul and reveals He is not only alive, He is glorified by the light of heaven. Saul is stunned—and blinded. His companions lead him into the city where he waits, without food or drink, for three day until Jesus' messenger comes to tell him what to do. Saul goes into further detail in Acts 22:6–16 and 26:9–18.
Acts 9:10–19 explains how the greatest earthly enemy of the early church experienced a change of heart. Saul is a Pharisee-trained, Greek-speaking Jew and zealous persecutor of Christians (Acts 8:1–3). He asked for permission to hunt Jesus-followers in Damascus, but found Jesus, instead (Acts 9:1–9). Blinded by Jesus' glory, he has been waiting in Damascus for Ananias, a Jesus-follower. Ananias arrives and participates as as Jesus heals Saul from both physical and spiritual blindness. Saul is baptized and takes physical nourishment. Saul stays in Damascus for some time and immediately takes his extensive training in Jewish Scripture to argue that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. The Sanhedrin's hitman is now a target of his former allies.
Acts 9:20–25 describes what happens right after Saul, the mortal enemy of the young church, becomes a follower of Jesus Christ. He had come to Damascus to arrest Christians; now he is a Christian. Immediately upon his conversion, he goes to the synagogues and explains how Jesus of Nazareth fits the prophecies of the Jewish Messiah. At some point, he will spend time in Arabia, then return to Damascus (Galatians 1:17–18). Finally, he will return to Jerusalem and attempt to introduce himself to a very wary church. Fortunately, although the apostles will be skeptical, Barnabas will take him under his wing (Acts 9:26–27).
Acts 9:26–31 draws a curtain on the persecution of the church at the hands of the Pharisee-trained Saul. The young man who ''[breathed] threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord'' (Acts 9:1) has chosen to follow Jesus instead. He has spent several years learning more about how Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and sharing his new-found understanding at synagogues in Damascus. Now, he returns to Jerusalem—not to the Sanhedrin who gave him his orders, but to the leaders of the church he once tried to destroy.
Acts 9:32–35 is a short story about Peter healing a paralyzed man near the western slope of the coastal range of Judea. It is also the beginning of an account, running through Acts 11:18, of Peter opening the doors for the apostle Saul's mission to reach the Gentiles for Christ. Saul has become a Jesus-follower and will soon go by the name Paul. The immediate, intense threat to the church is greatly eased. Peter is traveling, possibly visiting the churches that were started by those who fled from Saul's persecution (Acts 8:1–3). Soon, he will witness and validate that Gentiles can be saved and receive the Holy Spirit. The last phase of Acts 1:8 will begin in earnest.
Acts 9:36–43 describes Peter raising a disciple named Tabitha—or Dorcas in Greek—to life. He has been in Lydda, about 15 miles southeast, where he healed Aeneas from paralysis and taught the people of the city about Jesus (Acts 9:32–35). Soon, he will receive a request to travel 40 miles north to Caesarea Maritima where he will meet a Roman centurion. Peter will share the story of Jesus, and a houseful of Gentiles will receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 10). Given his upbringing, Peter might think of Gentiles being saved as a greater miracle than Tabitha coming back to life!
Chapter Summary:
Acts 9 sets the stage for the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles. Saul continues the persecution of the church by traveling to Damascus to arrest Jesus-followers. Before he reaches the city, Jesus confronts him. Saul realizes Jesus is the Messiah and immediately starts spreading the news, first in Damascus and later in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Peter travels to modern-day Tel Aviv to heal a paralyzed man and bring a dead woman back to life. The miracles aren't unusual, but the story leaves him in Joppa, poised to take the next step in Jesus' mandate to be His witness (Acts 1:8).
Chapter Context:
The murder of the Jesus-follower Stephen has ignited a fierce persecution against the church, led by a young Pharisee-trained man named Saul (Acts 7:54—8:3; 9:1–2). When he realizes Jesus truly is the Messiah, that fervor fuels his own evangelism (Acts 9:3–30). Meanwhile, Peter travels to the coast of Judea. Soon, he will teach a prominent Gentile household about Jesus and discover that Gentiles can be saved (Acts 10). The stage will be set for Saul to spread the saving news of Jesus to ''the end of the earth'' (Acts 1:8) under the Greek version of his name: Paul.
Book Summary:
The summary of the book of Acts is provided in Jesus' words in Acts 1:8: ''But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'' In Acts 2:1–13, the Christ-followers receive the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:14—7:60 describes the rapid growth of the church in Jerusalem. Chapters 8—12 find Jewish persecution inadvertently spreading the gospel throughout Judea and Samaria. And in chapters 13—28, Paul and his companions spread the good news throughout the Roman Empire.
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