This page is a verse by verse study of Acts 9:20-31. These verses describe Saul’s first experiences as a disciple of Christ.
Saul’s First Experiences as a Disciple
¶ "Immediately, in the synagogues, Saul proclaimed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. All who heard him were amazed. They said, “Isn't this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called on this name? Didn't he come here intending to bring them bound before the chief priests?” "(Acts 9:20-21).
Synagogues Synagogues are the “local churches” of the Jews scattered around the world. These synagogues are wonderful institutions of flourishing religious life “at the grass roots”. Arguably these synagogues, not the temple, represented the real Jewish church, the church of the people. From the first day of his ministry, in most of the cities he visited, Saul used the synagogues of the Jews as his first opportunity to preach.
Complete change in Saul. Saul had set out for Damascus intending to arrest the disciples of Jesus and bring them bound to Jerusalem to be sentenced by the chief priests. Now, instead, he is preaching Jesus! A wonderful change in his life had been wrought. This change certainly amazed those who heard him preach.
¶ "Saul increased in strength. He confounded the Jews who lived at Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ. Saul did this for a long time. Then the Jews conspired together to kill Saul. To that end, they watched the gates both day and night. Their plot, however, became known to Saul. His disciples took him by night, and let him down through the wall. They lowered him in a basket."(Acts 9:22-25).
Confounded the Jews Saul’s was a Pharisee, educated by no lesser light than Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). This gave him a huge advantage in debating with the Jews.
Increased in strength. He also received power from Jesus who had laid hold of him (Philippians 3:12), and pressed him into service (1Timothy 1:12).
The Jews conspired to kill him. The persecutor now became the persecuted. He begins to share in the sufferings of Christ. They conspired to kill Jesus; they conspired to kill Stephen; now they are after Saul. However, not all the Jews were behind this, and a warning was passed on to Saul.
Lowered in a basket. The Jews had influence to get the co-operation of the ethnarch or ruler of the city (2Corinthians 11:32-33). The gates of Damascus were being watched, so a window in the city wall was used for Saul’s escape. Saul was, we might say, “a basket case” in a desperate bid to escape.
Saul in Arabia. Between verses 25 and 26 of Acts 9 there is the period of three years, not mentioned here in Acts, but mentioned in Galatians. Saul spent some of this time in Arabia being taught by Jesus Christ, then returned to Damascus (Galatians 1:11-18).
Paul’s trips to Jerusalem
Paul’s first trip to Jerusalem, after his conversion, is described in Galatians 1:18-24 and in Acts 9:26-30. On this trip Paul introduced himself through Barnabas to the apostles Peter and James and did some preaching in their company.
A subsequent trip is mentioned in Acts 11:28-30, in which Paul and Barnabas carried the first relief funds to Jerusalem from Antioch in Syria.
A third trip is described in Galatians 2:1-10 and in Acts 15. Between his first and second missionary journeys, Paul met with the apostles to discuss his doctrine which they commended.
A final trip (the latter part of Paul’s third missionary journey) is recorded in Romans 15:25-28,1Corinthians 16:1-4 and Acts 21:15-18. Paul and others carried a gathered contribution to Jerusalem for the needy saints.
¶ "When Saul came to Jerusalem, he tried to join himself to the disciples, but they were all afraid of him. They didn't believe that he was a disciple. However Barnabas took him to the apostles, and declared to them how he had seen the Lord in the way. Barnabas told the apostles how Jesus had spoken to Saul, and in Damascus Saul had preached boldly in the name of Jesus."(Acts 9:26-27).
Came to Jerusalem. This return to Jerusalem was three years after Saul’s conversion. See notes above. The news of Saul’s conversion would surely have reached the disciples in Jerusalem. However their memories of their real experience weighed more on their judgment than news from the north. So Paul got a frosty reception in Jerusalem until Barnabas took the initiative. Barnabas and Saul were to be close companions.
¶ "So Saul associated with the apostles and moved freely in Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus. He was talking and debating with the Grecians, but they were seeking to kill him. When the brethren found out, they brought Saul down to Caesarea, and sent him off to Tarsus."(Acts 9:28-30).
Grecians. The term “Grecian” or “Helenist” refers to Jews from regions of Greek culture as distinct from the Hebrews, the natives of Jerusalem. Broadly, the term might refer to Jews or proselytes (Gentile converts to Judaism) who were not locals and didn't speak the local languages but spoke Greek.
Seeking to kill Saul. Hostility toward the disciples of Jesus had settled down somewhat, and the churches "had peace"(Acts 9:31). However there was such hostility toward Saul by Jews from further afield, that Saul had to be got out of Jerusalem. He went north, beyond Syria, to his home town of Tarsus in Cilicia.
¶ "So the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, had peace. They were built up; they were multiplied; and they were walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit."(Acts 9:31).
The churches. The churches that formed because of the scattering, have progressed and by now have become established. Note the four characteristics: they had peace, growth, reverence, and the Comforter.
Peace. Tribulation and persecution passes, and peace ensues for a time. This, by the way, is the meaning of the “little season” in Revelation.
Multiplied. The church in Jerusalem had grown to several thousand before it was scattered. Its scattering did not stop it from growing and probably rather encouraged growth.
Fear. The fear of the Lord isn't terror, but a deep respect and awe. It's not the kind of fear that love casts out (1John 4:18). We should both love the Lord and fear the Lord. There's no contradiction.
Comfort of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised to send another Comforter who is the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-18).
END OF THE SECOND SECTION OF ACTS
With this progress report Luke concludes his description of the spread of Christianity into Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. It begins with the Martyrdom of Stephen, describes the work of Philip, and ends with the conversion of Saul (Acts 6:8 to 9:31). In the third section we will see Christianity spread into the coastlands and Syria.