March 4, 2014

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe


 

Lesson III.B.2: Ananias Ministers to Paul (9:10-19a)     

              

 

Scripture

 

10 And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, 

Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.

11 And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house 

of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold , he prayeth,

12 And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might 

receive his sight.

13 Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy 

saints at Jerusalem:

14 And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.

15 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the 

Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:

16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.

17 And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, t

he Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest 

receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.

18 And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, 

and was baptized.

19a And when he had received meat, he was strengthened.

 

 

Introduction

 

In this passage, we have the visions of the blinded Paul and the Christian Ananias which took place In 

Damascus. Ananias was understandably reluctant to approach this notorious persecutor, who had come to 

Damascus expressly to arrest Christians like himself. Ananias was instructed to come to Saul, restore his 

sight, baptize him, and reveal his commission to him. The commission is given in verses 15-16. Paul will now 

be a witness for Christ; the former persecutor of Christ would now be persecuted for his own witness to 

Christ.

 

Commentary

10 And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.

And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias;

Ananias was a common name among the Jews, which in its Hebrew form was Hananiah. Three men have this name in the New Testament. The most important of the three was the disciple from Damascus whom God used to minister to Saul (Paul) after his conversion. We know nothing about Ananias except what this passage tells us. He was one of the leaders of the Damascus church, and as such, he was one of Saul’s targets. Paul describes him as “a devout man according to the Law,” with a good testimony before others—“And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there, (Acts 22:12). Now, this is not a description of His Christian character, but of his Hebrew character. He was not a Hellenist, but a Hebrew. Paul is the last man to describe a Christian as a devout man according to the Law.

When Ananias laid he hands on Saul, he received his sight and was filled with the Holy Spirit. We do not know how the Gospel came to Damascus nor how Ananias was converted. The book of Acts does not give us a complete history of the early church, but reports only the important events of its growth. It is significant that Ananias was simply a disciple (and not an apostle) in that Paul’s apostleship was not founded on the ministry of another apostle (Gal. 1:1, 12). Tradition says that later Ananias became bishop of Damascus and died a Martyr.

Another Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira was part of the early church at Jerusalem (Acts 5:1-10). Their act of selling property to appear as though they were giving like the others (Acts 4:32-37), and then keeping part of the money, resulted in God’s judgment of their hypocrisy with death.

The third Ananias was the high priest and president of the Sanhedrin at the time of Paul’s arrest (Acts 23:2). His haughtiness at the time of Paul’s arrest was characteristic of his whole tenure. His apparent cooperation with the conspirators who were seeking to assassinate Paul (Acts 23:12-15) further reveals his unscrupulous character. Ananias himself was murdered by assassins for his cooperation with the Romans.

Why was Ananias of Damascus chosen to convey Saul’s commission instead of the apostles in Jerusalem? The answer may be found in one of the following reasons:

a)     As a Jewish Christian, who adhered to the ‘customs’ of Judaism, Ananias was an unimpeachable witness to the truth of Saul’s call and apostleship.

b)     It was fitting that Saul, the leading persecutor of the disciples, should be received into the fellowship by one of the despised Nazarenes in Damascus whom he had intended to seize.

c)      An ecclesiastical reason becomes clear as we read Galatians 1:15-2:10, for it had to be made clear that Paul’s apostleship was not received from men, but directly from the Lord.

And to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.

It was the Lord Jesus who spoke to Ananias. No surprise is expressed that the voice of the Lord was actually heard by this man. Jesus was alive from the dead, and Ananias was not surprised when he heard Him speak.

11 And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold , he prayeth,

And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight,

Paul spent three days in the house on Straight Street. There is still a street with this name in Damascus, running from the east gate to the west through the city [Maundrell].

And enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus:

There is something touching in the thoroughness of these directions. Tarsus, the city of Saul’s birth, was the capital of the province of Celicia lying along the northeast coast of the Mediterranean. It was a large and populous city on the river Cydnus (Acts 21:39) near the border of Asia Minor and Syria, and under the Romans it had the privilege of self-government. It served as both a commercial and educational center. The wharves on the Cydnus were crowded with commerce, while the university ranked with those of Athens and Alexandria as the finest in the Roman Empire.

Any attempt to identify this Judas of the house on Straight Street with another Judas of the New Testament is utterly unwarranted. The Judas who entertained Saul entertained him as the ambassador of the high priest, and was full of amazement at the strange thing that had happened to him in those days.

For, behold , he prayeth,

Paul was “breathing out threatenings and slaughter” as he left Jerusalem intent on arresting Christian men and women in Damascus; but as he waits in the house on Straight Street he is struggling after receiving light and life from the Persecuted One. Look at him now, the proud Pharisee, the unmerciful oppressor, the daring blasphemer, prayeth! Now he began praying in another manner than he had done, before he said his prayers, now, he prayed them. Regenerating grace causes people to pray; it is easier to find a living man without the ability to breath, than it is to find a Christian who doesn’t pray. This is a beautiful picture of how Ananias would find the persecutor!

12 And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.

And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in,

It is clear from this that as in the case of Peter and Cornelius afterwards, there was a mutual preparation of both parties. But we are not given any account of the vision which Paul received of Ananias coming to him and putting his hands on him for the restoration of his sight, except for the allusion to it in the vision which Ananias had.

and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.

The directions were clear and he learned that the ex-persecutor was praying (v. 11), having received a preparatory vision, himself.

13 Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:

Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man,

A report of the ravages wrought by Saul against the Christians had come to Damascus, probably reported by the refugees who had fled there to escape persecution. The objections by Ananias, and the removal of them by the Lord, display in a very touching manner the childlike relation of the believing soul to its Redeemer. The Savior speaks with Ananias as a man does with his friend. Ananias poured out all the forebodings of his heart concerning this man. But when assured that Saul was now praying (v. 11) instead of persecuting, Ananias went to the house of Judas on Straight Street (v. 11).

How much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:

The church is comprised of “saints” (set apart ones). “Thy saints,” says Ananias to Christ, indicates that he recognized that Christ is God. And in the next verse Ananias describes the disciples as those “that call on Christ’s name.” It appears from this that Ananias was a resident of Damascus and not a refugee from Jerusalem.

It is obvious that Ananias feared what Saul might do.

 

 

14 And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.

 

 

From this we know that the terror not only of the great persecutor’s name, but of his commission to Damascus, had traveled before him from Jerusalem to Damascus. One can imagine the effect of the news on the Christians in Damascus. They knew that Saul had been on his way to capture them. They had prayed for divine intervention. Perhaps they had even dared to pray for Saul’s conversion. Now they hear that the arch-enemy of the faith had become a Christian. They can hardly believe their ears.

15 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:

But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way:

The Lord tells Ananias, “Do as you have been told, without arguing.”

for he is a chosen vessel unto me,

The expression “chosen vessel” [lit., “a vessel of election”] is often used by Paul to illustrate God’s sovereignty in election—“But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified , and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work” (2 Tim. 2:20-21; also see Rom. 9:21, 23; 2 Cor. 4:7). There was perfect continuity between Paul’s salvation and his service; God chose him to convey His grace to all people (Gal. 1:1; 1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11). The vessel (Saul) was carefully selected for his suitability. It is easy for us to see that as we look backward across the centuries. Who was better for the task than Paul? Yet he was not a perfect Christian man. No one was more conscious than he of his imperfections—he had physical handicaps and spiritual weaknesses. But in his case, the imperfections of the vessel is all a part of God’s plans.

to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:

Paul was called for several purposes, and one was to “bear the name of Jesus.” Notice that he was not called a witness as the disciples were. Although he may have seen Jesus at His crucifixion, he had not walked with Him in the days of His flesh. He really knew nothing about Him until that day on the road to Damascus. Now he was to bear that name. That is the same name we are to bear today, the name of Jesus. Paul began his ministry preaching to Jews (Acts 13:14; 14:1; 17:1, 10; 18:4; 19:8) though his message was largely rejected; but his primary calling was to Gentiles—“For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office” (Rom. 11:13, also Rom. 15:16). God also called him to witness to kings such as Agrippa (Acts 25:23-26:32) and likely Caesar (Acts 25:10-12; 2 Tim. 4:16-17). He who had caused many others suffer was to be made an example of suffering for Christ’s sake (v. 16). Most of his suffering would come from the hands of his Jewish brethren.

16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.

From this we know that Paul’s commission did not come directly from God but through a God appointed disciple. By contrast, his apostolic authority did come directly from Christ, not by succession through one of the apostles—“Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;) . . . But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. (Gal. 1:1, 11-12).

“He has done much against that Name,” said the Lord to Ananias, “but now when I show him what great things he must suffer for that Name, he shall count it his honor and privilege.” He was chosen to suffer for Jesus Christ. In my opinion, there has never been anyone else who has suffered for the Lord as Paul has suffered. None of us dare say, “I’m suffering more than anyone else. Why does God let this happen to me?” We may be suffering or we may think we are suffering more than we are. At any rate, none of us suffer as Paul the apostle had to suffer for the Lord.

 

 

17 And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.

And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul,

Once his doubts were removed, Ananias made his way to that house befitting the reception of the representative of the high priest in Jerusalem. Ananias thoroughly identified himself with the Lord’s purpose: Brother Saul, he said, the LordJesus, who appeared to you on the road . . . has sent me. How beautifully childlike is the obedience of Ananias to the “heavenly vision!” Again, the placing of hands meant identification, for Saul now belonged to the people he had formerly persecuted. It was a touching display of Christian grace and love, Ananias expresses full fellowship with the new convert by laying his hands on him, calling him “Brother Saul,” (meaning fellow Christian) and explaining the purpose of his visit. How encouraging those words must have been to Saul! Any person who loves the Lord Jesus Christ is a brother to any other believer. Unfortunately, I must add that brothers don’t always act like brothers.

The expression “putting his hands on” was also used of Jesus when he healed (Mark 6:5; Luke 4:40; 13:13; 28:8). It was also used to illustrate taking a prisoner, and in the Old Testament, offerers of sacrifices laid their hands on the animal as an expression of identification. But in the symbolic sense, it signified the affirmation, support, and identification with someone and their ministry (1 Tim. 4:14; 5:22; 2 Tim. 1:6; Num. 27:23).

The intervention of Ananias supports the view that, in New Testament times, there was no idea of any special succession of grace flowing from the apostles. Ananias acted in a prophetic capacity, and his protest (vv. 13-14) is not that of a stubborn servant, but is rather a sign of holy familiarity with his Lord. It should be noted here that the Holy Spirit was given to Saul by the laying on of hands by a simple disciple. Ananias was what the commentators call a “laymen.” That the Lord would use one who was not an apostle should certainly be a rebuke to those who seek to confine spiritual prerogatives to the “clergy.” One of the most important lessons we can learn from Acts is that Christianity is a lay movement, and that the work of witnessing was not committed to a special class, such as priests or clergymen, but to all believers.

the Lord, even Jesus,

This term clearly shows in what sense the term “Lord” is used in this book. It is Jesus that is meant, almost without exception, in the epistles also.

that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest,

This knowledge by an inhabitant of Damascus of what had happened to Saul before entering the city, would show him immediately that this was the man whom Jesus had already prepared him to expect.

hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.

Ananias, probably without and advance instruction concerning the Holy Spirit, took it for granted that the Spirit would descend upon him; and this would not necessarily occur after he was baptized [Cornelius and his group received the Holy Ghost before they were baptized (Acts 10:44-48)]—but immediately after the recovery of his sight by the laying on of Ananias’ hands.

In contrast to the baptism of the Spirit, which is the one-time act by which God places believers into His body, the filling is a repeated reality of Spirit-controlled behavior that God commands believers to maintain. Peter and many others were filled with the Spirit again (Acts 4:8, 31; 6:5; 7:55) and so spoke boldly the Word of God. The fullness of the Spirit affects all areas of life, not just speaking boldly (Eph. 5:19-33).

The Spirit had already been active in Paul’s life; convicting him of sin (John 16:9), convincing him of the lordship of Christ (1 Cor. 12:3), transforming him (Titus 12:5), and indwelling him permanently (1 Cor. 12:13). He was then filled with the Spirit and empowered for service (Acts 2:4, 14; 4:8, 31; 6:5, 8; Eph. 5:18). Saul received the Spirit without any apostles present because he was a Jew (the inclusion of the Jews in the church had already been established at Pentecost) and because he was an apostle in his own right because Christ personally chose him and commissioned him for service—“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1).  The reception of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of Ananias hands was an exceptional experience and not the normal thing

18 And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.

And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales:

This shows that the blindness as well as the cure was supernatural—substances like scales would not form naturally in so short a time. [Some have the opinion that this only a vivid way of describing the sense of returning sight.]

And he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.

Saul was baptized as directed by Ananias—“And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Ananias commanded him to be baptized, and wash away his sins after he had received the fullness of the Spirit. This, of course, was the baptism of water, and was a sign of a break with the past, and in all external things, a falling into line with spiritual change that had been created in him. Acts 22:16 conveys the impression that it was necessary for Saul to be baptized in order to be saved, but that was not the case. Saul washed away his sins by “calling on the Lord”—“And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 22:16); For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13). The water had nothing to do with his salvation. He had been baptized by the Holy Spirit—that is, he had been saved on the Damascus road. When Ananias had laid his hands on him, he had been filled with the Holy Spirit for service. And now he was baptized with water.

When a person is truly “saved” certain things always happen. There are certain marks that show the reality of their salvation. This was true of Saul of Tarsus. What were these marks? Francis W. Dixon lists a few of them:

1)      He met the Lord and heard His voice (vv. 4-6). He received a divine revelation, and only that could have convinced him and made him the humble inquirer and devoted follower that he became.

2)     He was filled with the longing to obey the Lord and to do His will (v. 6).

3)     He began to pray (v. 11).

4)     He was baptized (v. 18).

5)     He united in fellowship with God’s people (v. 19).

6)     He began to testify powerfully (v. 20).

7)     He grew in grace (v. 22).

19a And when he had received meat, he was strengthened.

Paul was weak as a result of his three day fast and the additional shock of his “exposure” to the resurrected Christ, but may not have realized it due to his internal struggle as he waited for the man who was to restore his sight. However, several things may have helped him regain his strength: his encounter with Ananias, his healing, his filling with the Spirit, his water baptism, and his eating some food.

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