Acts 9:19-22 by Robert Dean
The conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus is the historical account of an event that had enormous consequences for the Church. Paul’s entourage witnessed this event on their way to round up and persecute believing Jews. Saul was blinded, emotionally stunned, and intellectually challenged. Intense prayer and fasting were the result of Saul’s narrowed focus on the ramifications of this event. After strengthening with food, Saul immediately preached Christ in the synagogues. What does it mean to “preach Christ?” What is the difference between preaching and teaching? What was the response? What are the parallels in Paul’s message and the first message of Jesus when He taught in Nazareth? What is the importance of our physical and spiritual strengthening to the message the Church carries to the world?

Paul and the Early Church Mature Spiritually
Acts 9:19-22
Acts Lesson #084

Anyone who is even a casual observer of what has been going on in churches and Christianity over the last 30 years has recognized that a revolution has taken place. And it is a revolution that is not a biblical revolution. It is a revolution that has been heavily influenced by the culture. The whole concept of American individualism and American success—and how do we measure success in America? We measure success in America by how many customers we have and how much money we make. Success in the church has been redefined over the last 30-40 years to how large you are and how big your ministry is, and whether or not you have a television ministry and all of these other things that are not related at all to the real issues of spiritual health that are revealed in Scripture. The larger the churches become the broader their doctrinal beliefs, the less they teach of the Word and the more they let just anything slide by. Too often they fail to proclaim the truth of the gospel because it might offend somebody. Too often they fail to teach the basic skills needed for spiritual growth, not to mention just teaching word by word, verse by verse, book by book, the whole counsel of God from Genesis to Revelation; teaching people about the wonderful character of God, His faithfulness to us, His love for us, His gracious provision for us, and how to walk by the Holy Spirit. We aren't taught well how even to have a relationship with God on the basis of the cross.

When we come to this passage where we are in Acts chapter nine we are taking up where we left off, just after the salvation of Saul of Tarsus who will become known in history primarily as the apostle Paul. What we see in this next section in this chapter which will start in verse 19 we will see principles related to Paul's spiritual foundation and his spiritual growth, as well as what develops as a spiritual healthy church in this early stage, approximately four to six years after the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

During this early stage Christians were still a Jewish based sect, still a sub-set within the synagogue. Saul had been commissioned to arrest and bring back in chains any Christians that he finds in Damascus. As he approaches Damascus suddenly Jesus appears to him in a bright light. Saul falls down, realises he is in the presence of deity, believes in Jesus as the promised and prophesied Messiah of Israel, and this is when he is justified, regenerated and converted. During his three days in Damascus following his conversion Saul has not eaten. He has been fasting. Nowhere in Scripture is there a command to fast. There are examples of many people who fast. There is nothing wrong with fasting, but the reason people fasted in Scripture was not because there was anything efficacious in fasting. What was significant was that something was so pressing, so important and overwhelming, that the person was so focused and concentrating on prayer that they were not going to get away from prayer to take time to take care of their own personal needs. Saul is fasting because he has just been overwhelmed. The Lord Jesus Christ took a spiritual 2x4 and whacked him over the head with it. It got his attention. Paul is thinking all this through and that is why he is not eating and why this text specifically says that he is not drinking at all. Acts 9:9 NASB "And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank."

Acts 9:19 NASB "and he took food and was strengthened. Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus." This sets up what is going to happen over the next few days.  "… and was strengthened" is a temporal participle, but the participle is in the aorist tense, which indicates that it precedes the action of the main verb. The main verb is talking about his being strengthened. The verb is enischeuo [e)nisxeuw] – ischeuo is the word for being strengthened, being strong, being capable – the en, the preposition prefix attached to this word, means to be strengthened within. Although the primary usage is physical it is also used in a number of places for spiritual recovery. But it is clear from the context here that it is talking about a man who is physically exhausted and drained from not eating or drinking. The reason for pointing this out is because in verse 19 NASB "and he took food and was strengthened." You don't get strength when you are eating; it comes after you have eaten. So that aorist tense is really important, it indicates action that precedes the action of the verb. In verse 22 we have "But Saul kept increasing in strength." In the English we have the same word in both places for strength, but they are two different words in the Greek. The word in verse 19 is talking about his physical recovery; the word in verse 22 is emphasising his spiritual strengthening, his spiritual growth that is developing very rapidly.

So the word enischeuo means to recover from a loss of strength, to regain or recover one's strength. It is an aorist active voice. The active voice means that the subject, Paul, performs the action. In English it will often be translated "he received strength." That is a passive translation and is not accurate. The food is what strengthened him. The best way to translate this in a sort of expanded translation would be: "and after receiving food he recovered his physical strength." This would be added to make sure that we understood the context here. It is not focusing upon him spiritually but physically. Then afterward, "Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus." This would be with the Christians.

There is a principle here: Though our ministry (and every believer in the body of Christ is given a ministry) is spiritual it runs on food and water. We can't be effective if we are not taking care of ourselves physically. Paul has to be strengthened physically before he can be engaged in ministry.

What happens as a result of Paul being strengthened? Then he begins to spend some time with the disciples. He is going to be spending the next three years in Damascus and so he is laying a foundation here. Later on we see that when he leaves Damascus it is because his life is threatened. The Jews have turned hostile to him in the synagogues and his disciples (rarely does the Scripture talk about anybody having disciples, other than Jesus) let him out of Damascus. But how did he get to know them? He built those relationships with them over the three-year period of time.

Acts 9:20 NASB "and immediately he {began} to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, 'He is the Son of God.'" christos is just the Greek translation of the word to anoint, the noun form meaning "the anointed one" and is the Greek counterpart to the Old Testament word Mashiach, meaning Messiah or the anointed one. So it is saying here that he proclaimed the Messiah in the synagogues that He is the Son of God. This is connecting to Jesus that Jesus is the Messiah and that He is the Son of God. And he does this immediately, and that word indicates a very short amount of time, immediately following. The episode that Paul refers to in Galatians 1:17ff in going to Arabia during this time doesn't occur right away. Immediately after his conversion he begins to preach or proclaim the Messiah in the synagogue. The word "preach" is from kerusso [khrussw], which is formed from the noun kerux [khruc], a herald. In the classical Greek period this was like the cupbearer, as Nehemiah was. It didn't have the idea of someone going out into the highways and byways making announcements. That came along later. By the time of the New Testament period the word kerux had a lot of different meanings. But the verb basically means to announce or proclaim something, and most of the time in the New Testament this word kerusso, which is usually translated "preach," is related to the content of the gospel. It is not related to Christian life, post-salvation teaching. There may be one or two exceptions to that but for the most part it relates to the gospel message.

Today we live in a world where teaching and preaching have been redefined in popular church culture so that preaching takes on a certain oratorical or rhetorical form. You go to certain churches and they have certain styles of preaching. Some are a little more dramatic than others, some are a little less dramatic, and in some of the big churches that have built themselves on sociological principles rather than the principles we see in this passage they don't have a pulpit, the pastor gets up there in blue jeans and a tee shirt just talking to people in a laid back manner, and so is the doctrine. But that is all related to a contemporary version or idea of what preaching was. But that is not formed on what the biblical concept was. Preaching is usually and almost always related to the proclamation of the gospel content, the message of salvation. Teaching—didasko [didaskw]—is what is necessary for a new believer who has responded to the gospel to grow. He has to learn, to be instructed, to be taught in the faith. He has to be taught the Word of God and to understand the principles in the Word of God. That is not just a proclamation, it is an instruction when you go through and explain and analyse the text, explain its meaning and illustrate its application.

So what Paul is doing is going out and talking about the Messiah. The application here is that when we are engaged in evangelism we need to be able to express the gospel in a way that puts it in a historical context, that Jesus didn't just show up and surprise everybody. Jesus' presence was predicted in promises in the Old Testament, from the initial somewhat vague prophecy of Genesis 3:16 that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the seed of the serpent. From that initial announcement, tracing the meaning of the seed all the way through the progress of the Old Testament, more and more is said about God's promise of salvation. There is the introduction of sacrifices in Genesis chapter four (in chapter three there was the shedding of animal's blood, picturing salvation). In Exodus and Leviticus there is all of a sudden a variety of different sacrifices, each one designed to teach different things. There is also the narrowing of the family in the genealogy from just a descendant of Adam and Eve to just a descendant of Noah through Shem, and then from Shem through Abram, Isaac and Jacob, and then through the tribe of Judah in Genesis 50. Then through the lineage of David—2 Samuel 7 and the Davidic covenant. There are other specifics like Micah 5:2 that talks about the fact that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. There is a narrowing of the focus because more and more details are given so that people will be able to identify the Messiah when He comes. Also the fact that He would be God is shown from a number of different passages—Isaiah 7:14; 9:6; Micah 5:2; Isaiah 53. These are passages that can be used in witnessing to people and explaining why we believe that Jesus is the Messiah.

Paul is proclaiming this in the synagogues because this is the only place that he was, and saying that He is the Son of God. Luke only mentions Jesus as the Son of God in this place clearly, and maybe one other place in Acts15 where there is a quote from Psalm 2. But this is one of Paul's favourite terms that he uses in Romans 1:4, where he is alluding to Psalm 2. In 2 Corinthians 1:19 he says, "For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who was preached among you …" Galatians 2:20, talking about his own salvation, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the {life} which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." He identifies the Messiah, Christ, as the Son of God. Ephesians 4:13 NASB "until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God …" This term "Son of God" doesn't mean that Jesus had a physical generation from a father; it doesn't mean that there was a time when the second person of the Trinity, Jesus, didn't exist. That was taught in the early church by a man named Arius who was a heretic. It goes by the name of Arianism historically; it goes by the name of Jehovah's Witnesses today.

When we look at the phrase "Son of God," in Hebrew it doesn't mean that a man physically generates a son. It is used as an idiomatic expression for identifying someone who has certain characteristics applied to them. For example, there are passages that talk about people who are very disruptive and who bring chaos into society and are called sons of Belial. In other places the translation is that one is a murderer, but actually the Hebrew says they are sons of murderers. Why? Because it is an adjectival description. A son of a murderer is someone who has the characteristics of a murderer. A son of a fool is a person who has the characteristics of a fool. So the Son of God is someone who has the characteristics of God. It is an expression of complete deity. Jesus is the Son of God, which means He is fully God. He is also called the Son of Man, which means He is fully human. He is both fully God and fully human, united together in one person. The term that has historically been used in Christianity for that since the Council of Nicea in 325 AD is the term "hypostatic union."

The response to that: Acts 9:21 NASB "All those hearing him continued to be amazed .." The people are dumbfounded, they just don't know how to explain this 180-degree shift that has taken place in Saul of Tarsus. "… and were saying, 'Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and {who} had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?'" 

There are four parallels between this event and the first message of Paul and the first message of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus shows up in Nazareth. This is His first message after the temptation in the wilderness, and we read: Luke 4:16 NASB "And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. [17] And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him…"

Isaiah 61:1 NASB "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me [the servant] …" He is saying the Spirit of the LORD God, which is clearly a different person, is upon Him. So there is an implication here of at least two divine personages. "… Because the LORD has anointed me …" So there is Me, the LORD, and the Spirit of the Lord—the Trinity is there. "… To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners [bound by sin]; [2] to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD." And then the second part of verse 2, "And the day of vengeance of our God…" That is a term for the day of the Lord that comes at the end of days. There is a time gap of several thousand years between the first line and the second line. It is telescoped. It goes on: "To comfort all who mourn, [3] To grant those who mourn {in} Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, The oil of gladness instead of mourning [establishment of the Messianic kingdom] …"


Luke 4:20 NASB "And He closed the book …" He doesn't continue to read the verse. Why? Because up to that point it is talking about His mission during the first advent: to come and proclaim Himself as the Messiah and to demonstrate that through the healing of the sick and the healing of the lame, etc., and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord which relates to the time of redemption. Then He closes the book. He doesn't go into the rest of it because the rest of it isn't going to be fulfilled for several thousand years. What is the reaction?  "… gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him." They are just stunned. [21] "And He began to say to them, 'Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.'"

Luke 4:22 NASB "And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, 'Is this not Joseph's son?' [23] And He said to them, 'No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, 'Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.'"

Both Jesus and Paul begin their ministries by going into a synagogue and giving a powerful message related to the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. Both of them are focused on the same thing: that Jesus is the promised, prophesied Messiah. Both audiences react in astonishment and amazement at the message. And they ask questions. Is this not Joseph's son?" And in Damascus: "Isn't this the same man who was so opposed to Christians and Christianity? There is confusion. And both of them experience a violent, hostile reaction to their message. Luke 4:28 NASB "And all {the people} in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; [29] and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff." Paul has a similar reaction; they are going to try to kill him.

So when we think about witnessing to people and they just say they don't want to hear it, we should just be thankful they don't want to stone us! Just because we do everything right doesn't mean people are going to like it. In fact, when we do everything right according to Scripture we are following the path of Jesus. He did nothing wrong and they crucified Him. So the closer we get to doing everything the way God says to, the more opposition we are going to get in this world system—especially when the world system and the culture around us turns more and more against the Bible and Christianity.

Acts 9:22 NASB "But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this {Jesus} is the Christ." He brings his arguments to bear and they can't refute them. He didn't just come up with some of this. Remember that for years when Jesus was alive Paul was a student of Gamaliel in Jerusalem, and like all seminary students throughout all history, they are probably coming back from hearing Jesus and having debates: how can He claim to be the Messiah? What do our fathers say about the Messiah? And they would be debating these issues and the meaning of the Hebrew text. And he was set on the fact that there was no way that this Jesus could be the Messiah. Then there was the road to Damascus. So he does a 180-degree turn, and nobody understands the arguments of the other side better than the convert. He understands every argument they are going to use and he is the most brilliant rabbinical student of his generation. He just twists and turns their words and they can't best him in an argument. He is going through every passage in the Old Testament and proving they were fulfilled by Jesus and all they are doing is getting madder and madder and madder. 

Paul is "increasing in strength," and the word here is endunomoo which is a word that is used in many places of being strengthened spiritually. So he is growing and maturing as a believer in his spiritual life. Expanded translation: "So Saul continued to be strengthened even more and he continued to confound the arguments of the Jews." This is the first time that Luke uses this term "the Jews" as a distinguishing mark from the Christians. It is not a term of anti-Semitism because they are all Jews. It is a term for those who are following rabbinical Judaism, not a term of ethnical prejudice. He continued to confound the arguments of the Jews, and you have to know the Word of God to do that. And what happened? They plotted to kill him.