Acts Bible Study

Acts: Holy Spirit Chooses Saul and Barnabas

Acts 13:1-15

New International Version

13 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

On Cyprus

The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.

They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.”

Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.

In Pisidian Antioch

13 From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. 14 From Perga, they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath, they entered the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak.”

These teachers and prophets mentioned in verse 1 were probably the leaders of the church in Antioch. Barnabas and Saul were the most famous ones. But the other leaders were also important in the early church. That is why Luke mentions them. Their names show that they were from different places.

Simeon (or Simon) is a Jewish name. Simeon was also called ‘Niger’, which is the Latin word for ‘black’. (At that time, Latin was the language that people spoke in Rome.) So, Simeon was a black man. He probably came from Africa. Some students say that he was Simon from Cyrene. Simon from Cyrene carried Jesus’ cross (Luke 23:26). But here, Luke spells the name ‘Simeon’. And in Luke’s Gospel, Simon from Cyrene is not called ‘Black’.

Lucius is a Roman name. Some men spoke to the Greek Gentiles about Jesus. This Lucius may have been one of those men. (Look at Acts 11:20. And look at the note about it.)

Manaen is the Greek word for the Hebrew name Menahem. The name means ‘someone who gives comfort’. During Manaen’s childhood, he had lived with Herod Antipas. Antipas was the Herod who killed John the Baptist (Luke 9:9). Antipas was also at Jesus’ trial (Luke 23:6-12).

Christians fast for several reasons. It helps them to think about spiritual things instead of physical things. It can help them to hear what God is saying. To fast was important in the early church. Probably, all the Christians in Antioch were fasting. This meant that they expected God to say something to them.

‘The Lord’ here means Jesus. Those words show that Christians were now worshipping Jesus as Lord and God. Here in verse 2, they were worshipping and they were also fasting. While they were doing those things, the Holy Spirit spoke to them. Probably, the Holy Spirit gave the message by means of one of their prophets. The Holy Spirit chose Barnabas and Saul to be missionaries.

The members of the church fasted again and they prayed again. They knew that something very important was happening. Barnabas and Saul were obeying Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19. Jesus had told them, ‘Go to the people in all nations. Make them my disciples. Baptize them in the Father’s name, the Son’s name, and the Holy Spirit’s name.’ The whole church sent Barnabas and Saul off to do this. The prophets and teachers put their hands on the two men to bless them before their journey.

The missionaries go to Cyprus, 13:4-12

Luke describes how the first missionary journey started. The island called Cyprus was Barnabas’s home. So, he could guide Saul and he could introduce Saul to people there.

Salamis was on that island’s east coast. It was an important city for trade. Many Jews lived there. So, Barnabas and Saul preached to them first. They usually preached to the Jews first when they came to a new place.

Luke also records that John Mark was with Barnabas and Saul. Perhaps John Mark went to give them practical help. Then they could concentrate on their main task, which was to preach the good news.

Paphos was the capital of Cyprus. People there worshipped Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and sex. The city was famous because the people there were so wicked. Often, when people do wicked things, they have connections with magic. Even Sergius Paulus, the ruler of Cyprus, had a private magician. This magician was a Jew. Usually, the Jews did not do magic. God had said that people must not do magic (Deuteronomy 18:10-12). But Bar-Jesus did magic. His other name, Elymas, meant ‘magician’. If his master became a Christian, Elymas would lose his job as a magician. Elymas knew that. So, he opposed the missionaries, Barnabas and Saul. He tried to persuade his master not to believe the Christian faith.

Often, Jews had a second name, which was a Greek or Roman one. Now, Luke calls Saul by his Greek name, Paul. This seems more suitable. This is because Paul had become a missionary to Gentile countries.

Paul became full of the Holy Spirit, so that Paul spoke with God’s power and authority. Paul understood that the devil was attacking the missionaries by means of Elymas. Elymas’s other name, ‘Bar-Jesus’, meant ‘son of Jesus’. That is, ‘son of a saviour’. But this man was the devil’s child! He had tried to prevent people so that they would not receive salvation. So, God punished Elymas. Elymas became blind. This was a sign. The sign showed that he was blind spiritually. But it would only last ‘for some time’ (verse 11). Perhaps this meant that if Elymas repented, he would see again. Like Simon the magician (Acts 8:9-13), Elymas had power. But again, we see here that God’s power is greater.

The ruler saw what happened. But this did not convince him completely. Paul and Barnabas taught him about Jesus. Only then, ‘the ruler trusted the Lord and he had faith in the Lord’ (verse 12).

Paul and Barnabas go to Pisidian Antioch, 13:13-15

The missionaries travelled north to Perga in Pamphylia. Then, John Mark left them and he went back to Jerusalem. It seems that there was an argument. In Acts 15:38, Paul seems annoyed that John Mark had left them. We do not know why John Mark left. Perhaps he thought that the journey was too hard for him. Pamphylia was a very damp, unhealthy place. People often became ill there. Or perhaps John Mark was unhappy because Paul now seemed more important. When the missionaries started their journey, Luke wrote about ‘Barnabas and Saul’. But when they left Cyprus, Luke wrote Paul’s name first. Luke wrote about ‘Paul and his companions’. He did not even mention Barnabas then. Barnabas was John Mark’s cousin.

Pisidian Antioch was not actually in Pisidia. It was in Phrygia, which was near Pisidia. But there were several cities called Antioch. Paul and Barnabas had come from Antioch in Syria. Also, there were two Antiochs in Phrygia. So, this one was called Pisidian Antioch. This distinguished it from the other Antioch that was in Phrygia.

On the Sabbath, people went to the synagogue. There, they heard someone read the scriptures. Readers read twice, from two different parts of the scriptures. First, they read from the books that contain the Law. Then, they read from the books that contain the prophets’ messages. After that, someone would explain what those scriptures meant. The leaders of this synagogue invited the missionaries to do this. Perhaps they saw that Paul was wearing a rabbi’s clothes. This is the first time that Luke records a public speech by Paul.

Acts Bible Study

Acts: Peter in Prison, Again

Acts 12

New International Version

Peter’s Miraculous Escape From Prison

12 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.

So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.

11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.”

12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”

15 “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”

16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,” he said, and then he left for another place.

18 In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19 After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed.

Herod’s Death

Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there. 20 He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him. After securing the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king’s country for their food supply.

21 On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. 22 They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” 23 Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.

24 But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.

Barnabas and Saul Sent Off

25 When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.

Herod was the name that people called all the Jewish rulers. It was the name of the rulers’ family. This Herod was Herod Agrippa the First (the first Herod that had the name Agrippa). He was Herod the Great’s grandson. Herod the Great was ruling when Jesus was born (Matthew 2:1). Herod Agrippa the First was a friend of the Roman rulers, Caligula and Claudius. When Claudius became the Emperor in AD 41, he gave Judea to Herod Agrippa. Before, a Roman had ruled over it.

Herod Agrippa the First wanted to stay popular with the Jews. Many Jewish leaders now opposed the church. So, Herod opposed the church too. He used his authority to persecute believers. He arrested the leaders of the church. He wanted to destroy the church.

James was an important disciple. He was John’s brother. In the Gospels, the writers mention James and John many times

Soldiers killed James ‘with a sword’. This means that they cut off his head. This was the punishment for political crimes.

‘The Jews were pleased.’ ‘The Jews’ here probably meant the Jewish rulers, who were the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Herod wanted to be even more popular. He wanted to show that he was loyal to the Jewish religion. So, he arrested Peter.

Herod wanted to arrange a public trial for Peter. But Herod could not do this immediately. He had to wait until the Passover had finished. The Passover lasted 7 days. So, he had to keep Peter in prison in the meanwhile.

However, the apostles had many friends. Also, many people were secret believers. So, Herod made sure that Peter could not escape. Guards were with Peter all day and all night. They guarded him in turn, so that there were always four soldiers there. It seemed impossible for Peter to get away.

But nothing is impossible for God. While Peter was in prison, the believers prayed for him. They did not pray only once. They continued to pray. Then a miracle happened!

Peter escapes! 12:6-10

Peter was sleeping. He felt calm, because he always trusted God. He was calm.

Suddenly, an angel appeared in Peter’s room. The Greek word for ‘angel’ (aggelos) can just mean a person who brings a message. So, some students say that this angel was human. They say that it was not an angel from heaven. But Luke mentioned angels from heaven many times in his Gospel. He also mentioned them at the beginning of Acts. In total, he mentioned them about 15 times. And here, Luke writes that ‘a light shone everywhere in Peter’s room’ (verse 7). Luke meant that the angel was not human. Peter’s escape was a miracle. Even Peter thought that he was dreaming!

Peter and the angel had to pass through three gates to get out. Perhaps the soldiers who were guarding the first two gates were asleep. Or maybe they thought that Peter was a servant. It was dark. They did not expect to see him. But the third gate (the iron one) was the main gate. Servants would not go out of the main gate at night. So, God made a wonderful thing happen. The iron gate just opened by itself. When they were outside, the angel disappeared.

A surprise! 12:11-19

Peter knew now that he was not dreaming. What had happened was real. He was free. But he knew that he must hide quickly. So, he went to a house where Christians met.

The church in Jerusalem was too big to meet in one building. So, groups of its members met in big houses. Some members met in the house of John Mark’s mother. This is the first time that Luke mentions John Mark. John Mark wrote the second Gospel. He travelled with Paul. We shall read more about him later in ‘Acts’. Luke does not mention his father. Perhaps John Mark’s mother was a widow. She was rich. We know that because she owned a big house. It had a gate (verse 13). This gate was the entrance to a yard. Also, she had a servant. Possibly, she had more than one servant.

The servant, Rhoda, was so happy that she forgot to open the door! The believers inside were praying for Peter. But they did not believe that he was there, outside! Perhaps they did not think that God would answer their prayers so quickly. They thought that Rhoda was crazy. Or they thought that Peter’s angel was outside.

People believed that each person had an angel, who looked after him or her. But they refused to believe that it was really Peter himself.

Peter probably felt very impatient. He needed to get off the street, so that nobody could see him there. So, he continued to knock until they answered.

Peter wanted them to be quiet, because he was still in danger. When Herod’s guards searched for him, they would come to this house first. This was because his Christian friends met there. He told his friends what had happened. He told them to tell James (Jesus’ brother) and the other believers. This James became a leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13; 21:18).

‘He went to another place’ (verse 17). Peter had to go far away from Jerusalem. We do not know where he went. Probably, he went to a country where Herod was not the ruler. Later, he returned to Jerusalem (Acts 15:7).

Verses 18-19 Herod probably thought that the guards had helped Peter to escape. Now there would not be a public trial. Herod was very angry. So, he punished the guards by death. Then Herod left Jerusalem.

Herod Agrippa the First dies, 12:20-25

When Herod left Jerusalem, he went to Caesarea. Caesarea was on the coast. Tyre and Sidon were ports by the Mediterranean Sea. They were close to Caesarea, which was also a port. Perhaps the traders in Tyre and Sidon took trade away from Caesarea. Perhaps that is why Herod was angry with Tyre’s people and Sidon’s people.

However, we do not know exactly why Herod argued with them. But the people from Tyre and Sidon wanted to make peace with Herod. Wheat grew in Galilee and those people needed this wheat for food. Herod was ruling over Galilee. So, they persuaded Blastus, Herod’s official, to help them.

Herod and the people from Tyre and Sidon wanted to be friends again. They wanted to do this in public. Perhaps Herod was trying to be popular again. So, they chose a day when they would meet. It was probably a special day, like the Emperor’s birthday.

The Jewish writer Josephus also wrote an account of this occasion. He described the clothes that Herod wore. Someone had made them from silver cloth. They shone in the sun. For that reason, the people shouted that Herod was a god. Josephus wrote that Herod did not stop them. Josephus also described Herod’s death.

Suddenly, Herod had a bad pain in his bowels. (The bowels are part of the body. Food passes through the bowels and then it goes out of the body.)

Herod was very ill for 5 days before he died. In Acts, Luke tells us what was making Herod so ill. ‘Worms ate Herod and he died.’ Worms can damage the bowels and in this way they can cause death. Luke shows that Herod’s death was God’s punishment of Herod.

Barnabas and Saul had gone to Jerusalem with money. (Look at Acts 11:30.) This money would be a help to the Jewish Christians during the famine. John Mark was Barnabas’s cousin (Colossians 4:10). John Mark returned to Antioch with Barnabas and Saul.

Acts Bible Study

Acts: The First Gentile Church

Acts 11:19-30 New International Version (NIV)

The Church in Antioch

19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

22 News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

27 During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) 29 The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea. 30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

In verses 19-21, The Gospel was spreading everywhere even to Antioch that was in Syria. It was in the northern city for trade. People from many different countries did business there together. Many Gentiles went to Jewish synagogues there. Some such Gentiles received circumcision. But some such Gentiles did not. They were ‘God-fearers’ like Cornelius. The differences between Jews and Gentiles mattered a lot in Jerusalem. But in Antioch, it did not matter as much. So, there, some Jews who spoke Greek preached about Jesus to Greek Gentiles also. This probably happened when they met together in the synagogues. Many Gentiles followed the new faith.

The Christians in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch. They wanted to know what was happening. This does not mean that they were angry. Barnabas was a Jew who spoke Greek. His name meant ‘someone who encourages’. The church in Antioch was a new one. They may have wanted to be friendly to those new Christians. So, that was why they sent Barnabas there.

‘Barnabas saw that God had done good things for the people’ (verse 23). Perhaps they had changed the way that they lived. Many people in Antioch did bad things. Perhaps the new believers did not do those bad things any longer now. Maybe they surprised people in that way. Perhaps they were using the gifts from the Holy Spirit.

Barnabas was pleased. He did not need to teach those people who had already become believers. But he told them that they must continue to follow Jesus. Nothing must stop them. It seems that Barnabas became a leader in the church at Antioch. He was a good man. This was because he was full of the Holy Spirit and faith. When a person is like this, God works by means of him or her. God worked by means of Barnabas. Because of Barnabas, ‘many people decided to trust the Lord’ (verse 24).

Barnabas had done great things. However, he knew when to ask for help. Now, because there were many more new believers, Barnabas needed someone to help him. It did not worry him that he would be sharing his work. He considered that the church was most important. Leaders of churches today should try to be like him.

Barnabas remembered Saul. Saul was the right person for this work with the Gentiles (Acts 9:15, 27). Saul was in Tarsus. The believers in Jerusalem had sent him there for safety (Acts 9:28-30). That was about 7 or 8 years before. Now Barnabas fetched him. Together, they taught the many new believers in Antioch.

The pagans in Antioch were famous because they used words in clever ways. So, they made up a name for the believers. They called the believers ‘Christians’. (The Greek word is ‘Christianoi’.) The pagans probably meant this to be a joke. It was probably because the believers were always talking about Christ. Certainly, the believers did not call themselves ‘Christians’. But this name showed that people considered the new faith as different from Judaism.

Claudius was the Emperor from AD 41-54. During this time, there were 5 famines in the Roman empire. They happened in different parts of it. Actually, 5 writers recorded that they happened. One was the Jewish writer Josephus (AD 37-100). He wrote about a famine in Judea. It happened between AD 44 and 48. But the believers in Antioch knew that it would happen. They knew because Agabus had told them about it. So, they could prepare for it. They had not met the believers in Judea. But the believers in Antioch knew that both the groups belonged to God’s family now. So, they helped the believers in Judea.

Christians today have sisters and brothers all over the world. Everyone who believes in Jesus and follows god’s word is our brother or sister. That is why we must help each other. Although we may never meet some Christians on earth, they are our brothers or sisters.

So, Barnabas and Saul went back to Jerusalem. They took money to help the believers there.

Acts Bible Study

Acts: The First Church in Jerusalem

Acts 11:1-18 New International Version (NIV)

Peter Explains His Actions

11 The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’

“I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’

“The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ 10 This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.

11 “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12 The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’

15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”

18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Peter probably stayed in Caesarea for several weeks to teach the new Gentile believers. The journey from Caesarea to Jerusalem would take one week. But the believers in Jerusalem had already heard what had happened to the Gentiles. They had heard the news before Peter arrived!

Some Jewish believers in Jerusalem seemed angry. They were surprised that Peter had stayed with Gentiles. Those Gentiles had not received circumcision. The Jewish believers said that the Gentiles must receive circumcision. Then they (the Gentiles) could join the church. Circumcision was the most important Jewish tradition. So, these Jewish believers wanted to keep it in the church.

The people in the church in Jerusalem may not have heard everything that happened. They had probably heard only part of what had happened. Peter wanted to tell them everything. He started his story with his vision at Joppa. Luke now recorded that event again, in Peter’s words. This was because it was such an important event.

The first Christians were Jews. Some of them wanted to keep the Jewish traditions. They wanted Gentiles to follow Judaism. In the Jews’ opinion, if the Gentiles did that, then they (the Gentiles) could join the church. By means of Peter’s vision, God told the Jews to accept Gentiles without circumcision. Salvation was for Gentiles too, even if they had not received circumcision.

The Greek word for ‘hesitation’ here is the same as in Acts 10:20. But the grammar is different. This changes the meaning. Here, it means that Peter must not make distinctions between Jews and Gentiles.

Peter said, ‘These 6 believers from Joppa also went with me’ (verse 12). So, there were 7 men in total. The Jews knew both Egyptian law and Roman law. In Egyptian law, when people wanted to prove something important, they brought 7 witnesses. This proved that the thing was true. When the Romans wrote something important, they put 7 special marks on the paper. This showed that it was true. So, Peter did not argue with the Jewish believers. He told them the facts. They knew that he was speaking the truth. They knew that because there were 7 witnesses. That was how he proved it.

The angel used the word ‘salvation’. This was important. Cornelius was a good man. But this did not mean that he had received salvation. He received salvation after he heard the gospel. He believed in Jesus and he trusted in him. That is how he received salvation. This is the only way in which people can receive salvation. People do not receive salvation because they do good things. They must repent. They must decide that they do not want to sin any longer. They must accept Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

This part of Peter’s report caused the most excitement. The Holy Spirit had come down onto the Gentiles! Peter remembered what Jesus had promised (verse 16). Jesus had made that promise before he returned to heaven (Acts 1:5). Now Peter understood that the promise was for Gentiles too. God gave the Holy Spirit to them when they believed in the Lord Jesus. Peter could not argue with God!

Peter convinced the Jewish believers that God had given the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles. They could not argue with God either! Instead, they praised God.

Acts Bible Study

Acts: Gospel for Everyone

Acts 10:34-48 New International Version (NIV)

34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues[a] and praising God.

Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

The Jews believed that they were God’s favourite people. But Peter’s vision showed to him that God loves everyone. Peter said that ‘Many people worship God. He accepts all such people’ (verse 35). Jesus can save us from the results that sin causes. Peter was saying that God lovesand saves people from every nation in the world. Where you were born does not matter to God. It does not matter to God what colour your skin is. His salvation is a gift. He offers that gift by means of Jesus to all people.

God’s message to the Gentiles was the same as his message to the Jews. That message was ‘the good news about the peace that Jesus Christ offers’. (Peace means freedom from mental or spiritual troubles.) Sin had separated people from God. But Jesus came to rescue people from sin’s results. So, now, there is peace between people and God. This only happens by means of faith in Jesus. Many people believe in Jesus and they trust in him.

In verses 37-38, Peter described the main things that happened in Jesus’ life and work. It is likely that these Gentiles knew something about Jesus. But they probably did not know very much about him. Jesus was a Jew. Before this, the Christian faith was just a part of Judaism. But now, everything had changed!

So, Peter gave to these Gentiles the same message that the apostles preached. There is no doubt that Jesus was human. Peter called him ‘Jesus from Nazareth’. But Peter also said that Jesus is ‘the Lord over all’ (verse 36). That is a name that we give to God only. Jesus is a man and he is also God. Even when he lived on earth, God’s power was in him. Peter said that ‘he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil because God was with him’ (verse 38).

Peter told his audience that he and the other apostles had seen all this. The apostles saw what Jesus did in the country of the Jews. This was the Roman province called Judea. The apostles also saw what happened in Jerusalem city. Peter had already told the Jews about Jesus’ death. Now, Peter told these Gentiles how Jesus died. The Jewish leaders had wanted Jesus to die. But it was the Romans who had actually killed him. Roman soldiers had put nails through Jesus’ hands and feet. They had hung him on a wooden cross. Now Peter was describing that terrible death to a Roman audience.

But then Peter told the good news to them. Jesus had beaten death! Peter and the other apostles had seen this too. The apostles had spent time with Jesus after he had come back to life. God had carefully chosen the people who would see Jesus. They would tell the truth about who Jesus really is. They could not doubt that he was alive. The apostles had even seen him eat. And they had seen him drink. Everything that Peter said about Jesus was true. Jesus’ resurrection proved it.

Jesus had told the apostles to ‘preach the good news to the people’. The ‘people’ meant both Jews and Gentiles. (Look at Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19.) The apostles also had to say that Jesus will be the judge of every person. Nobody can escape from this. He will be the judge of everything that we do. And he will be the judge of everything that we say. But we must not be afraid. Jesus can save us from punishment. If we believe in Jesus, God will forgive us. This is the promise that God gave to all the prophets.

The Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit, 10:44-48

The Holy Spirit interrupted Peter. Nobody had put their hands on the Gentiles and nobody had prayed aloud for them. Peter did not even pray aloud that the Holy Spirit would come. The Spirit came because the Gentiles were willing to believe God’s message. Peter had told them about salvation by means of Jesus. In other words, God forgives people who believe Jesus. God forgives people who trust him. There can be no doubt that the Gentiles believed immediately. So, the Holy Spirit came down onto them. Anyone can receive the Holy Spirit if he or she has real faith in Jesus.

Peter had already said that God accepted Gentiles. But the Jewish believers were still surprised when the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit. The Gentiles spoke in ‘different languages’ or ‘tongues’. The same thing also happened at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down onto the Jews. But now, this thing proved to the Jews here that the Gentiles had received the Spirit too. God had accepted the Gentiles. They were not ‘unclean’ to him. Now the church, too, had to accept them. So, all those Gentiles received the baptism in water.

The Gentiles asked Peter to stay with them for a longer time. He had entered a Gentile house. Now he was their guest. They would talk together. They would eat together and they would drink together. Jews and Gentiles could be true friends. They were all in God’s family.

Acts Bible Study

Acts: Peter and Cornelius

Acts 10:1-33 New International Version (NIV)

Cornelius Calls for Peter

10 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”

Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.

The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”

When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.

Peter’s Vision

About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

17 While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.

19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”

21 Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?”

22 The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” 23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.

Peter at Cornelius’s House

The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along. 24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.”

27 While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. 28 He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”

30 Cornelius answered: “Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32 Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”

In verses 1-2, the Romans considered Caesarea the capital city in Judea. It was about 65 miles north-west of Jerusalem. The government was in Caesarea and many soldiers guarded the city. The word ‘unit’ here means a group of about 600 men. Cornelius was the captain of such a unit. He was a Gentile but he worshipped the one real God. And he helped Jewish poor people. There were many Gentiles like Cornelius. They hey worshipped God, mot the false Roman gods. But they did not follow the Jewish religion completely. This was because they had not received circumcision. The Jews called them ‘God-fearers’. This did not mean that they were afraid of God. It meant that they respected God and they obeyed him. But they were still Gentiles.

It is important to remember this. The Samaritans were half Jewish. The official from Ethiopia followed the Jewish religion. But Cornelius was the first real Gentile that joined the church.

One afternoon, an angel spoke to Cornelius. Cornelius was praying, at 3 o’clock when Jews prayed. (Jews prayed at certain times in the day. That was usual for them. Look at Acts 3:1.) The angel said that God had noticed Cornelius’s prayers and gifts. God wanted Cornelius to meet Simon Peter. Simon Peter was in Joppa, which was about 32 miles south, on the coast.

Cornelius was probably very surprised. He did not know why he had to meet Simon Peter. He did not know what would happen.

Cornelius obeyed the angel immediately. We know that all his family believed in God (verse 2). When some writers translate the word for ‘family’, it means everyone in the house. So, Cornelius could trust his servants when he told them about the vision. He also told one soldier about it. This was one of the soldiers who worked for him. The soldier also worshipped God. Then Cornelius sent the three men to fetch Peter.

Peter’s vision, 10:9-16

God was preparing Peter to meet Cornelius. Peter was a Jew. Some Jews believed that God did not care about Gentiles. They thought that God only cared about Jews. Jews refused even to enter a Gentile’s house. Even if the Gentile worshipped God, they would not enter. So, it would be very difficult for Peter to visit Cornelius.

But God taught a very important lesson to Peter. Peter’s family had taught him to follow the Jewish laws about food. Those laws are in Leviticus 11. They are a very important part of the Jewish religion. In those laws, there is a list. The list shows which animals and birds the Jews can eat. Those animals and birds are ‘clean’. But the Jews have to kill the animals in a special way. All other animals are ‘unclean’. For example, pigs are ‘unclean’. Jews would never eat them.

God spoke to Peter about this in a vision. Peter saw all kinds of animals and birds. Some of them were clean but other animals were unclean. But the voice in the vision told Peter that he could eat any animal or bird. The voice said that all animals were clean.

Peter did not want to obey the voice. He had always obeyed the Jewish laws about food. That is why he did not want to eat the ‘unclean’ animals and birds. But the voice answered him, ‘God says that these animals are clean. Do not say that they are unclean’ (verse 15). That lesson was so important that the same vision happened three times. Certainly, Peter would never forget it!

But the vision was not just about food. Gentiles ate kinds of meat that Jews thought were unclean. That was the main reason why Jews did not go to Gentiles’ homes. And they would never eat with them. God showed Peter that Gentiles’ food was clean. This meant that Peter could now welcome Gentiles into the church. He had to accept them, exactly as God accepted them.

Peter meets Cornelius, 10:17-33

The vision confused Peter. But God had already sent people to help him. They would help him to understand it better. They were waiting outside because Jews would not allow Gentiles to enter Jews’ houses.

The Holy Spirit spoke to Peter. Peter was worried. But the Holy Spirit told Peter not to worry. The Holy Spirit had sent the three Gentile men to Peter. So, Peter had to go with them. Peter went downstairs to meet the Gentile visitors. He told them who he was. And they told him why they had come.

‘Peter invited the men to stay as guests for the night’ (verse 23). He ate a meal with Gentiles, who had not received circumcision. They slept in the same house. Before the vision, Peter would not have done this. But now, he was beginning to understand that God accepted Gentiles. God did not think that Gentiles were unclean. So, Peter, too, should accept Gentiles.

The next day, Peter and 6 other believers went with the men. (Look at Acts 11:12.) They went north along the coast to Caesarea. It would take about 9 or 10 hours to walk there. They had to stop to rest. So, they did not arrive until the day after this.

Many people were waiting to see Peter. When Peter arrived, Cornelius kneeled at his feet. Peter was bringing God’s message. At that time, some people very much respected any person who brought God’s message. But immediately Peter made Cornelius get up. He told Cornelius that he (Peter) was only human.

This speech to a Gentile audience changed what would happen in the future. Peter, a Jew, entered a Gentile’s home. When he was doing this, he was acting against the Jewish rules. He came because God accepted all people. Nobody was unclean. So, he obeyed God. When they invited him, he came. He did not complain about it. Now he wanted to know why they had invited him.

Cornelius told Peter what had happened. When something important happens, Luke often repeats the story. Cornelius thanked Peter that he (Peter) had come. Cornelius was not just being polite. He was also very grateful. Cornelius asked him to tell God’s message to everyone.

Acts Bible Study

Acts: Peter Performs Miracles

Acts 9:32-43 New International Version (NIV)

Aeneas and Dorcas

32 As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. 34 “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. 35 All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.

36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 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!”

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.

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. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.

In verse 32, Luke continues the story about Peter. The church was not in danger now. So, Peter could leave Jerusalem. He could preach in other places. Lydda was a town about 30 miles north-west from Jerusalem.

Jesus had cured a paralyzed man in the town called Capernaum (Mark 2:1-12). Here, Luke describes how God cured another paralyzed man called Aeneas. This time, God did it by means of Peter’s prayers. Peter did not say, ‘I am curing you’ to Aeneas. Peter said, ‘Jesus Christ is curing you.’ Peter knew that he (Peter) did not have the power to cure. Jesus has that power. Jesus cured people when he was on the earth. And he continued to cure people after he went to be with God, his Father. He cures people today when Christians pray in his name.

Jesus told the paralyzed man in Capernaum to pick up his bed (Mark 2:11). Peter told Aeneas, ‘Get up and roll up your mat’. Aeneas would need his bed only at night now!

Sharon was the northern plain near the coast. The news about Aeneas spread round the neighborhood. Many Gentiles lived there. Joppa is called Jaffa today. It is on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. It is about 10 miles north-west from Lydda.

The Greek name ‘Dorcas’ means ‘gazelle’. (A gazelle is a beautiful wild animal with feet like a horse has. It runs fast and it jumps high.) Perhaps Dorcas was always running fast because she was busy! She helped many people. So, she was very popular. But she died suddenly. Everyone was very upset.

Many widows of this time were very poor. They had no money. So, they needed people to help them. Dorcas made clothes for them. When Jesus made Jairus’s daughter become alive again, he had sent most people out of the room (Mark 5:38-42). Only Peter, John, James, Jairus and his wife stayed. Peter remembered this. Now he sent the people here outside. He kneeled down and he prayed. He said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ Jesus had said to Jairus’s daughter, ‘Little girl, get up.’ The same thing had happened then too. Dorcas, like Jairus’s daughter, became alive again! Then Peter showed her to two groups of people. He showed her to the believers. He did this to make their faith even stronger. He also showed her to the widows. So, then they would know that they still had help.

When Jesus had made Lazarus become alive again, more people believed in him (John 12:10-11). The same thing happened here. Peter probably stayed in Joppa to teach the new believers. He even stayed with Simon, a man whom the Jews rejected. They rejected him because he did a dirty job. He touched skins from dead animals when he worked. The Jews said that he was ‘unclean’. But Peter did not seem to care about this. Perhaps God was preparing Peter for what happened next.

Acts Bible Study

Acts: Saul Preaches

Acts 9:20-31 New International Version (NIV)

20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.

23 After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.

26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them 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. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews,[a] but they tried to kill him. 30 When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.

In verses 20-21, Look how Saul had changed! He was telling the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. Saul had hated Christians because they believed this. So, it should not surprise us that people were confused. But Saul had met Jesus himself. Now he was certain that Jesus was the Messiah.

Saul was a Pharisee. At school, he had learned how to speak well in public. What he said about Jesus was true. And he had the Holy Spirit to help him. So, his words ‘grew more powerful all the time’. He gave evidence to people that Jesus was the Messiah. And the Jews who opposed him could not deny this proof.

The Jews became angry. Once, Saul had opposed Christians, as these Jews did. Now, suddenly, he was opposing the Jews! So, they wanted to kill him. But Saul escaped. His disciples helped him. Rabbis usually had disciples. Disciples followed their rabbi and they learned from him.

In verse 23, we read ‘after many days’. We know that Saul went to Arabia for three years (Galatians 1:17). But we do not know exactly when he went. Perhaps it was at this time. The north-west part of Arabia was very near to Damascus.

Saul had been away from Jerusalem for about three years (Galatians 1:17-18). But the believers had not forgotten him. They were afraid. They did not trust him.

The name ‘Barnabas’ means a person who encourages. People called this Jewish Christian from Cyprus ‘Barnabas’. He was generous and he was helpful (Acts 4:36-37). That is why they called him Barnabas. Perhaps he already knew Saul. So, he knew that Saul was a real disciple. Or perhaps he just decided to trust Saul. The two men became very good friends.

‘He took Saul to the disciples.’ Saul met Peter and James, who was Jesus’ brother (Galatians 1:18-20). They were two leaders of the church in Jerusalem.

The believers in Jerusalem accepted Saul. So, he continued to preach about Jesus.

‘He talked with the Jews who spoke Greek. And he debated with them.’ These were probably the Jews who had wanted to kill Stephen. Luke used the same Greek word for ‘debated’ here as in Acts 6:9. In that verse, the foreign Jews debated with Stephen. Luke did not use this word anywhere else in Acts. Saul’s preaching had the same effect on them as Stephen’s preaching. They had killed Stephen and now they wanted to kill Saul.

Again, Saul had to escape because people wanted to kill him. He was born in Tarsus and he had lived there. So, he went there. First, he went with the believers to Caesarea. Then he sailed in a boat to Tarsus. Tarsus was an important place for culture and education.

The last verse is where the second part of Acts ends. Saul was now a disciple. So, the church was safer. Saul had been the main leader that persecuted believers. Now the church was able to grow and the good news could spread.

Acts Bible Study

Acts: Paul and Ananias

Acts 9:10-19 New International Version (NIV)

10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.

In Verses 10-14, many believers had escaped from Jerusalem. Ananias was one such believer. Luke tells us more about him in Acts 22:12. But Ananias knew that Saul had persecuted Christians in Jerusalem. He also knew why Saul had come to Damascus. Saul had come to arrest believers! Ananias was probably very afraid of him.

The Lord was telling Ananias to go to Saul. (We can see from verse 17 that the Lord was Jesus.) Ananias was probably surprised. He thought that Saul was an enemy, who was powerful and dangerous.

The Lord said, ‘Go to the street called Straight Street’ (verse 11). Straight Street was very long. It went across Damascus from the east to the west.

Ananias used the words ‘anyone who calls on your name’ (verse 14). This means anyone who believes in Jesus and also trusts in him. So, that person calls to Jesus for help. Those words are like the words that the prophet Joel wrote. Peter also said in Acts 2:21. ‘Then, the Lord will save whoever calls to him for help.’

Saul was a very clever man. He had gone to a school for rabbis. He was a citizen of Rome. People respected him. He spoke well in public. He also travelled a lot, so he was used to that too.

Jesus had chosen him for a special job. He would tell many people in different countries about the good news. But it would not always be easy. Saul would suffer because he followed Jesus. This was not a punishment. Everyone who follows Jesus must be willing to suffer. Jesus himself warned us that people would persecute believers (for example, Luke 21:12-19).

Ananias obeyed immediately. He found Saul. When he greeted Saul, he called Saul ‘brother’. Ananias showed that he forgave Saul. He welcomed Saul and he accepted Saul into God’s family.

Saul had already seen Ananias in a vision (verse 12). So, he was expecting Ananias to come. Saul knew again that Jesus had chosen him. Ananias put his hands on Saul. Then Saul could see again. The Holy Spirit filled him. Then Saul received baptism in water, probably from Ananias.

Saul could not have served Jesus without the Holy Spirit in him. God would help Saul by means of the Spirit. And God would guide him by the Spirit. Saul received spiritual strength. And he ate again; so then he had strength in his body, too. The Holy Spirit helps us in the same way he helped Saul. Giving us the strength and power to complete the tasks God has for us.

Acts Bible Study

Acts: Saul On the Road to Damascus

Acts 9:1-9 New International Version (NIV)

Saul’s Conversion

9 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

Saul had watched Stephen die. He had seen that Stephen was brave and good. Stephen did not hate the people who were killing him. He asked God to forgive them. But Saul was still angry. He wanted to destroy the church completely now. He did not want to destroy it just in Jerusalem. He wanted to destroy it in the city called Damascus, too. Damascus was in Syria, a country in the north. The Sanhedrin did not have any political power there. But the Romans allowed the Sanhedrin to arrest Jews in other countries. Then the Sanhedrin had to bring those Jews back to Jerusalem. Saul knew that some believers had escaped to Damascus after Stephen’s death. Many Jews lived in Damascus already. It would take about a week to walk there. But Saul wanted to go. So, he needed letters from the high priest. The letters would show that he had authority from the high priest.

‘The Way’ was the name for the new faith. That name appears several times in Acts. For example, it appears in Acts 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22. The early Christians used it. The name shows that they followed the way by which people receive salvation.

Saul hated all Christians. He was very angry. Later, he said this about himself. He said, ‘I was very angry with them. I even went to foreign cities in order to persecute them’ (Acts 26:11). Then something special happened on the Damascus road. Luke included the story about that three times in Acts. Paul himself told the story twice, in his speeches (Acts 22:6-16; 26:12-18). But here, the story is in Luke’s own words.

We know that it happened at about noon (Acts 22:6). The light from heaven was brighter than the sun (Acts 26:13). It was so bright that Saul could not see. The force from the light was so strong that it knocked him down. He realized that the voice was from God. But the voice asked Saul a question, and that question confused him. He thought that he was working for God. That is why it confused him. So, he asked who was speaking. The answer was a shock to him. Now he knew that Jesus really was alive. What the believers said about Jesus was true! When Saul persecuted them, he was persecuting Jesus. Whenever Christians suffer, Jesus feels their pain, too.

Saul had always done what he wanted. He had told other people what to do. Now, the Lord Jesus said that Saul must go into the city. Someone else would tell him what to do now. Before, Saul had opposed Jesus. But now, he would obey Jesus for the rest of his life. This was not because Jesus had forced him. It was because Saul wanted to serve Jesus now. Now he knew that Jesus really is God’s Son.

The men with Saul were officers from the Sanhedrin. They were like the police. Jesus Christ had appeared in front of Saul. It was not a dream. Saul had seen a bright light. This was Christ’s glory. He had heard Christ’s voice. Jesus Christ had shown to Saul that he (Jesus) was alive. Jesus had appeared in front of the other apostles. Now he had appeared in front of Saul. Saul would become an apostle, too (1 Corinthians 15:8-9). Saul had hated Christians and he had persecuted them. It did not seem possible that Saul could become an apostle. But God’s grace had made it possible.

This can encourage us. We must pray for people who hate us. And we must bless people who hurt us. We must pray for leaders who persecute Christians. Jesus changed Saul. Jesus can do anything.

But Saul needed help. He was blind. His companions led him into Damascus. He could not see for three days. He did not eat and he did not drink. Probably he was thinking about many things.