Note: See also Acts 22 and 26 for other accounts of Saul’s conversion.
9:1 Meanwhile, Saul was still [cf. Acts 8:1] breathing out murderous threats [a consuming obsession (cf. Acts 26:11)] against the Lord’s disciples. He went [Saul took the initiative] to the high priest [either Caiaphas or Theophilus (a son of Annas)]
What did Saul look like?
According to “The Acts of Paul and Thecla,” a second-century writing, Paul is described as “a man little of stature, thin-haired upon the head, crooked in the legs, of good state of body, with eyebrows joining, a nose somewhat hooked, full of grace: for sometimes he appeared like a man, and sometimes he had the face of an angel.”
9:2 and asked him for letters [letters of introduction to Jewish leaders in Damascus; letters demanding extradition of Christians] to the synagogues in Damascus [150+ miles northeast of Jerusalem in Roman province of Syria; one of the ten cities known as the Decapolis (cf. Mk. 5:20; 7:31); Saul’s determination to go to Damascus reveals his intense hatred of Christianity], so that if he found any there [Christianity continued its spread beyond Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and regions beyond; Saul trying to prevent spread of Christianity to other cities] who belonged to the Way [see also Acts 19:9,23; 22:4; 24:14,22], whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners [cf. Phil. 3:6] to Jerusalem.
Note: Why would God use a person like Saul? Do you know anyone who is openly rebellious to the gospel? Do you ever think, “God surely cannot use a person like that?” or “I don’t think that person could ever be a Christian?”
9:3 As he neared [the time was “about noon” (cf. Acts 22:6; 26:13)] Damascus [Jesus “took hold of” Saul on the road to Damascus (cf. Phil. 3:12)] on his journey, suddenly [unexpectedly; cf. Lk. 2:13] a light [“brighter than the sun” (cf. Acts 26:13)] from heaven flashed around him.
9:4 He [and his companions (cf. Acts 26:14)] fell [perhaps in fright or worship and submission] to the ground and heard a voice say [in Aramaic (cf. 26:14), a Hebrew dialect and the language of the marketplace] to him, “Saul, Saul [this is one of five double expressions in the NT (see sidebar)], why do you persecute me [to persecute Jesus’ followers is to persecute Him; cf. Matt. 25:40,45]?”
9:5 “Who are you, Lord [or “sir”]?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied [according to Acts 22:10, Saul asked a second question: “What shall I do, Lord?” (a question that indicates submission to God’s will)].
9:6 “Now get up and go into the city [Damascus], and you will be told what you must do.”
9:7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound [“but did not understand the voice” as per Acts 22:9] but did not see anyone.
9:8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they [those traveling with Saul] led [powerful Saul was now blind and helpless] him by the hand into Damascus.
9:9 For three days he was blind [Saul’s physical eyes closed but spiritual eyes opened], and did not eat or drink anything.
9:10 In Damascus [a city located northeast of Israel in the country of Syria] there was a disciple [follower of Christ] named Ananias [a Jew who had become a believer in Jesus; see Acts 22:12 re: Paul’s description of Ananias]. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes Lord,” he answered.
9:11 The Lord told him [specific instructions], “Go to the house of Judas [a common Jewish name] on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying [see 1 Tim. 1:12-17 regarding Paul’s gratitude for what God had done in his life].
9:12 In a vision he [Saul] has seen [Saul’s vision created an expectation] a man named Ananias come and place his hands [a personal touch] on him to restore his sight [Saul was blind for 3 days; Acts 9:9].”
9:13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard [perhaps he had heard firsthand accounts from those who had escaped the persecution in Jerusalem] many [numerous] reports about this man [Saul’s reputation] and all the harm he has done to your saints [the first reference to believers as saints in the book of Acts] in Jerusalem [see Acts 8:3].
Saul or Paul?
• The name Saul used during time he spent among the Jews (Acts 9:1,17,19; 12:25).
• The name Paul used when he turned his attention to the Gentiles (Acts 13:9,13,16).
9:14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests [in Jerusalem] to arrest all [scattered by the persecution following the stoning of Stephen; see Acts 8:1] who call on your name [who call on Jesus as Lord].”
9:15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go [emphatic imperative]! This man is my chosen [see Gal. 1:15] instrument [God had a special plan for Saul] to carry my name before the Gentiles [first reference in Acts to the Gospel going to the Gentiles; cf. Acts 22:21; 26:17] and their kings and [in addition] before the people of Israel.
Blinded as a result of his encounter with Jesus, Saul’s traveling companions led him to the house of a man named Judas in Damascus. While there, the blind and broken Pharisee had a vision of a man named Ananias placing his hands on him in order to regain his sight. When Ananias, a Jewish believer, had a corresponding vision telling him to go to Saul, he expressed reluctance because of Saul’s reputation. However, the Lord told Ananias about the significant role Saul would play in taking the gospel to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews. This verse summarizes Paul’s life and ministry and signaled that the church’s evangelism strategy must include Gentiles. The gospel is for all peoples, not just for people like us!
Note: Ananias saw what Saul was (v. 13). The Lord saw what Saul had the potential to become (v. 15).
9:16 I will show him how much he must suffer [fulfillment began in Acts 9:23-25; see also 2 Cor. 11:16-33] for my name.”
The Lord also revealed to Ananias that Saul, who had already caused many to suffer (Acts 8:3; 9:1-1), would himself suffer for the name of Christ (see 2 Cor. 11:16-33). I met the late Calvin Fox several years ago in India. A missionary, Calvin served among the Kui people in the Khond Hills of northeast India. Calvin told me that the song “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” originated among the Kui people. Kui believers often face social alienation, persecution, and sometimes death. They understand that suffering will be a part of the equation of following Christ. And yet, when they embrace Christ they are able to sing, “no turning back, no turning back.”
9:17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul [a caring touch], he said, “Brother Saul [a caring word and affirmation that he was now accepted as a member of God’s family], the Lord — Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here — has sent me so that you may see again [physical sight; see v. 18] and be filled with the Holy Spirit [spiritual sight and power].”
God called on Ananias to do a difficult task. It is often difficult to demonstrate love and acceptance to those whom we fear. However Ananias overcame his fears and went to Judas’ house where Saul was staying. Entering the house, Ananias placed his hands on the blind and vulnerable Saul and addressed the feared persecutor as brother—an endearing term that affirmed that Saul was now accepted as a member of God’s family. Ananias explained to Saul that the Lord had sent him so that he could regain his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. God’s purpose for Saul, and for us, included the filling with the Holy Spirit that he might be able to do all that the Lord had called him to do.
Note: Who was the first person to call you “Brother” after your conversion? Who was your first friend after your conversion? How has that person’s influence made a difference in your life?
9:18 Immediately, something like scales [flakes] fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized [presumably by Ananias], and
When Ananias placed his hands on Saul something like scales or flakes fell from his eyes. As a result, Saul’s physical sight was restored and his spiritual eyes were opened. He saw Ananias standing before him, not as an enemy but as a brother. Saul then got up and was baptized, presumably by Ananias. Saul submitted to baptism, publicly confessing his commitment to Jesus Christ and accepting the task that God gave him and that Ananias conveyed. He now joined the growing ranks of believers in Jerusalem, Samaria, Damascus, Ethiopia, and other places where persecuted believers and new converts had taken the gospel.
9:19 after taking some food [cf. Acts 9:9], he regained his strength [nothing more is known about Ananias after this encounter]. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus [and probably received oral instruction from them].
Saul had fasted for three days (Acts 9:9). As a Pharisee (Phil. 3:5), he was no stranger to fasting. Fasting was a way for Saul to prayerfully express to God his earnest desire to properly understand the significance of the events that had resulted in his blindness. When Saul regained his sight and heard what Ananias had to say, he ended his fast, took some food, and regained his strength.
The first days following conversion are important in the lives of new believers. Saul spent the days following his conversion with the disciples in Damascus. These few days likely included instruction and study of what the Scriptures say concerning the Messiah. Saul’s years of study of the Old Testament were not wasted. God gave him fresh new insight on familiar old passages.
9:20 At once [indicates he was soon ready; cf. Gal. 1:17] he began to preach [before he went away to Arabia or after he returned to Damascus] in the synagogues [in Damascus] that Jesus [the content of his message] is the Son of God [not merely a man or an imposter or dead as he had once thought; only time this title is used in Acts].
Saul wasted little time before he began to preach. His zeal as a new follower of Christ seemed greater than his zeal as a persecutor. After spending a few days with the disciples in Damascus, Saul began proclaiming Jesus—a pattern that would hold true throughout the remainder of his ministry (see 1 Cor. 2:2). He began his ministry in the synagogues, the places where he had previously hoped to arrest followers of Jesus. Prior to his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Saul had thought that Jesus was merely a man, an imposter who was no longer alive. He now understood that Jesus is the living Son of God and long-awaited Messiah of Israel.
9:21 All those who heard him were astonished [because of Saul’s message and transformed life] and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name [Saul was a changed man]? And [the believers in Damascus had expected trouble from Saul] hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests [in Jerusalem (Acts 9:2)]?”
Those who heard Saul speak about Jesus were astounded. News of Saul’s rage toward Christians had already spread from Jerusalem to Damascus. The believers in Damascus expected the full force of Saul’s rage to reach within the walls of their own city. They had likely discussed the possibility that Saul would drag some of them back to Jerusalem as prisoners.
However, the man from whom they had expected the worst now stood before them preaching the Christian message. As the transformed life of this former persecutor became slowly but surely more evident, his preaching and teaching became more and more powerful. His transformed life convinced his audiences that his conversion was sincere and genuine.
9:22 Yet Saul grew more and [continually] more powerful [mature in his faith and understanding of the gospel] and baffled [confounded] the Jews living in Damascus by proving [“to join together” bits of evidence from the Scripture (e.g., prophecies) to make his case; Paul effectively interpreted the Scriptures] that Jesus [historical person] is the Christ [God’s Messiah].
Saul grew more capable or continued to mature in his faith and understanding of the Christian message. As a disciplined student of the Scriptures, he used Old Testament texts to prove or make his case that the historical person of Jesus was actually God’s Messiah. As a result, the Damascene Jews who heard him speak were baffled and unable to respond to him.
We cannot expect to master the Bible by occasionally reading a verse or two. We must intentionally set aside time daily for quiet reading and careful study of God’s Word. We will not impact our culture if we are unable to intelligently articulate what we believe and why we believe it. We grow in our commitment to Jesus Christ by deepening our understanding of Scripture and developing our ability to talk to others about who Jesus is.
9:23 After many days had gone by [see Gal. 1:17-18; then Saul returned to Damascus and], the Jews conspired to kill him,
9:24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch [cf. 2 Cor. 11:32] on the city gates in order to kill him.
9:25 But his followers [unnamed] took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall [cf. 2 Cor. 11:33].
Note: Paul’s followers took him at night, put him in a basket, and lowered him to safety through a window. As a result, Paul was able to escape from Damascus and continue his travels to tell others about Jesus. But, do not overlook the fact that someone had to hold the ropes for Paul. Those who held the ropes for Paul were…
• not selfish: they risked their lives to help him.
• not named: we do not know their identity.
• not rewarded: they received no recognition or honors
• they cooperated: the task could not be done by one individual
• they coordinated efforts: they worked in harmony with one another
• they combined strength: they shared the responsibility
9:26 When he came [3 years after his conversion as per Gal. 1:18] to Jerusalem [his first visit to Jerusalem since his conversion], he tried to join [associate with] the disciples, but they were afraid of him [see Acts 9:13-14], not believing that he really was a disciple [perhaps fearing that this was a ploy to infiltrate their ranks and then expose and punish them].
Sometime after his conversion and before his arrival in Jerusalem, Saul spent a period of three years in Arabia (see Gal. 1:17-18), the desert region southeast of Damascus. Although no one had heard from Saul during this time, his reputation as a persecutor was still fresh in the minds of believers, especially those in Jerusalem.
When Saul returned to Jerusalem for the first time since his conversion, he tried to associate with the disciples. However, the disciples spurned him. They were suspicious of Saul and probably thought that he was only pretending to be a disciple so that he could infiltrate their fellowship and have them arrested.
9:27 But [the conjunction that introduces a difference] Barnabas [Son of Encouragement (Acts 4:36); a bridge builder who facilitated Saul’s assimilation into the church; see Acts 4:36 re: Barnabas] took him [perhaps by the arm as suggested by the Greek word epilabomenos] and brought him to the apostles [Peter and James, the half-brother of Jesus (Gal. 1:17-19); these men were leaders of the Jerusalem church]. He [Barnabas probably took the time to get to know Saul] told them [Barnabas had credibility in the Jerusalem church] how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.
Everything changed for Saul when Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement (Acts 4:36), arrived on the scene. Barnabas was a bridge builder. Unlike others, Barnabas did not treat Saul with suspicion nor did he hold his past against him. Instead, in characteristic fashion, Barnabas came alongside Saul and took him by the arm to meet Peter and James, the Lord’s half-brother (see Gal. 1:18-19).
These men were two of the key leaders of the Jerusalem church. Barnabas spoke to them about Saul’s conversion and how God had already used him to speak boldly in the name of Jesus. The church still needs people like Barnabas—individuals who can look beyond the actualities to behold the possibilities in others.
Note: Consider the investment of Barnabas in Saul’s life:
• helped him gain acceptance among the disciples in Jerusalem
• invited Saul to assist him in teaching the new church at Antioch (Acts 11:25-26)
• helped deliver an offering to the needy at Jerusalem (Acts 11:30)
• Barnabas and Saul commissioned to go on first missionary journey by church at Antioch (Acts 13:1-3)
9:28 So [as a result] Saul stayed with them [was fully accepted into their circle; literally “going in and out among them”; Saul stayed for 15 days as per Gal. 1:18] and moved about freely in Jerusalem, [continually] speaking boldly in the name of the Lord [which caused conflict among the Jews and resulted in Saul leaving Jerusalem and returning to his native Tarsus; see Acts 9:29-30].
As a result of Barnabas’ character reference, Saul was fully accepted by the apostles into their fellowship. New believers with bad reputations need mature believers to come alongside to encourage and disciple them and to help them find acceptance among other believers. Peter demonstrated his acceptance of the former persecutor by extending Christian hospitality to him. Saul stayed with Peter for a period of 15 days. During that time Saul engaged other Jews in dialogue about Jesus. For the remainder of his life Saul would be deeply burdened for the spiritual welfare of his own people (see Rom. 9:1-5).
9:29 He talked and debated with the Grecian [Hellenistic or Greek speaking] Jews [the same audience that had stoned Stephen (Acts 6:9-15); Saul’s former friends], but they tried to kill him [the likely saw Saul as a traitor].
During his short stay in Jerusalem, Saul actively conversed and debated with the Hellenistic Jews. These Hellenistic or Greek speaking Jews were from the same group of people (see Acts 6:9) and perhaps the very ones who false accusations led to Stephen’s death. Saul may have debated with them in the same synagogue where he had once listened to Stephen speak.
Saul showed the intensity of his commitment by debating with these Jews about Jesus’ identity, even at great personal risk. We show the intensity of our commitment by convincing others—even Christians who have every reason to be skeptical—of our faith, by talking about Jesus at every opportunity, and by witnessing even to unlikely prospects.
9:30 When the brothers [fellow believers] learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus [Saul’s hometown; located in Cilicia; Saul does not appear again until Acts 11:26 when Barnabas found him and took him to Antioch; cf. Gal. 1:21-24].
The Hellenistic Jews responded to Saul the in the same way they had responded to Stephen—they tried to silence him by killing him. When the believers in Jerusalem found out about the attempts on Saul’s life, they escorted him to Caesarea on the coast and then sent him off to his hometown of Tarsus in Asia Minor.
Saul claimed that Jesus appeared to him in a vision in Jerusalem, urging him to leave quickly and to reach out to the Gentiles (see Acts 22:17-21). Saul returned to his hometown of Tarsus and remained there for the next seven years. He presumably continued his witness for Christ during these years.
9:31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.
9:32 As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the saints in Lydda.
9:33 There he found a man named Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years.
9:34 “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and take care of your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up.
9:35 All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
9:36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor.
9:37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room.
9:38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”
9:39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.
9:40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up.
9:41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive.
9:42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.
9:43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.