10. Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.”
Now we are introduced to a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias. This is the second time we come upon someone in this book with this name. The first Ananias was the one married to Sapphira who died by the hand of the Lord at the pronouncement of Peter back in Acts 5. This Ananias, however, is a faithful disciple of the Lord, as far as we can tell.
This Ananias sees a vision of the Lord. This might seem unusual to us, but this was nothing strange in the period of time in which this took place. During the Acts period, the Lord would often appear to His people to instruct them to do His will. Yet when we read of events like this, the fact that we do not live in the Acts period is impressed upon us. We simply do not see things like this happening today.
Now the Lord calls to Ananias in this vision, and Ananias answers Him, “Here I am, Lord.” We can only imagine the joy having the Lord speak directly to you would bring. Yet we cannot also forget the responsibility! To have the Lord speak to you put you under great responsibility to do what He said.
11. So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying.
The Lord now gives Ananias most specific instructions. He tells him to arise, and to go to the street called Straight. We would put it, “Go to Straight Street.” This was a street that ran straight from the east gate to the west gate. This street would also have been the bazaar. At Straight Street, Ananias is to inquire at the house of a man called Judas. It is not Judas he is seeking, however, but a man named Saul of Tarsus who is lodging there. This man Saul is praying, probably doing so at this very moment when the Lord is speaking to Ananias in this vision.
Imagine what it would be like to be given such direct and explicit instructions from the Lord! Surely it would be a blessing indeed. Yet it also would be a responsibility, as we noticed above. Ananias was now being sent to a man who had killed many of his fellow believers. This was not an easy mission to go on! Yet he knew what his orders were, and as a man of faith he would follow them.
12. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.”
The Lord tells Ananias that Saul has seen a vision. This blind man, who could no longer see with his natural eyes, now saw something in a vision from the Lord. Indeed, the Lord was now helping him see things that he had never seen before with his sight unaided. In this vision he sees a man named Ananias. He sees this one coming in to the place where he was and putting his hand on him, so that he might see once again. The Lord had showed him how it was going to be, and now it is Ananias’ job to go and carry out the task the Lord has already determined in advance for him. This man, although he until now had been unaware of it, was predestined for this meeting with Saul.
13. Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem.
Ananias knows what his orders are, and he knows from Whom he has received them. He does not doubt that this is the Lord’s word, nor does he threaten to disobey the Lord’s command. Nevertheless, these orders bring certain troubling questions to his mind, as we might well imagine that they would, and Ananias does not hesitate to bring these questions before the Lord. Notice his willingness to engage the Lord in conversation. Though the Lord is great and mighty, Ananias knows from the example of Jesus Christ that He is a loving God, and One Who can be approached by those who serve Him. Thus, he confidently speaks to the Lord of his misgivings, knowing that he has the freedom to do this with a loving God.
Ananias points out to the Lord what he has heard about this man Saul of Tarsus. Indeed, he had heard nothing good, nor was there much good to hear. Saul had done great harm to the ones set apart to the Lord in Jerusalem. This was a sad fact that could not be denied. Ananias had probably heard this from those who had fled from Jerusalem after the persecution that arose after the death of Stephen. These had firsthand knowledge of all the havoc Saul had wrought among the believers. Thus Ananias knew what he was talking about. Of course, what he did not know was that the Lord had acted to stop Saul in his tracks and to turn him around completely to make him His Own servant.
14. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”
The report had not just reached Ananias of what Saul had done in Jerusalem. He also knew of Saul’s current mission to Damascus, and the reason for which he had come. He knew that Saul meant to arrest all who called on the name of the Lord Jesus in that city. Probably the believers there were struggling with fear and doubt of this man, not knowing what would happen and if they could escape when he arrived. Perhaps many were already hiding, and some might even have fled before Saul could make his appearance. Yet Ananias had stayed, knowing that he did so in jeopardy of his life and freedom. And now the Lord is sending him to help this man whom the Lord’s people so dreaded and feared? No wonder Ananias wanted clarification regarding this!
15. But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.
Notice that the Lord does not chide Ananias for speaking frankly with Him. He does not become angry at our questions when we ask them with an honest and seeking heart. Nevertheless, He commands him to go and do what He had commanded him to do. Then, he explains to him why he is telling him to do this. He had chosen Saul. This word is ekloges in Greek, and is the only word translated “election” in the King James Version. This word does mean “chosen,” as it is translated here. One who is elected is chosen for a certain service. When the United States elects a man to be President, they choose him to be President. An election is really the making of a choice. So Saul was chosen or elected by God.
The Lord had chosen Saul to be a vessel to Him. This word “vessel” seems to mean what we would call a container. In this case, Saul was to contain the Lord’s name, and to bear it before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. The Lord’s name is not just the word used to designate him, as if Saul would go around saying, “Lord. Lord. Lord.” Rather, His name is His reputation based on His character. One who has a name for being trustworthy is one who has a reputation for being trustworthy. So, the Lord had a name, and Saul was His chosen vessel to carry that name far and wide.
The Lord plans for Saul to carry His name before Gentiles. This word ethnon means “nations,” as we have discussed before. Saul is to carry this word before many nations. We will see him do this in this very book of Acts, starting in chapter 13 and through the end of the book. He is also to carry it before kings. These are absolute rulers, and we see him doing this before Sergius Paulus in Acts 13:6-12, before Felix in Acts 24:10-26, and before King Agrippa and Festus in Acts 26:1-29, and we see that he was destined also to carry it before Caesar in Acts 27:24. Then he was to carry it before the children of Israel. Certainly we see him doing that time and again in this book of Acts as well.
The word here is actually “sons” of Israel, the Greek word huios. When we remember that “sons” to the Hebrew mind meant representatives, we can understand why this is the word commonly used, both in the Old and New Testaments. The Israelites who were then alive and on the earth were the current representatives of that nation, which God always considers as a whole. He will deal with them as a whole someday when He raises them all from the dead. Thus, those currently alive are the sons of that great nation God made.
When the great day comes that Israel is brought back to God, they too will be given a mission. They will have the good word of God’s government to carry before the nations. Like Saul, God will have a great mission for them to do, and the Lord will be with them in doing it.
16. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
The Lord reveals one more thing to Ananias. That is that Saul would be shown how many things he must suffer for the sake of the Lord’s name. Remember, Ananias was worrying about the suffering Saul could cause in Damascus. Yet the Lord reveals to him that the persecutor is to become the persecuted. The very one they feared would himself suffer innumerable things for the name of the Lord Jesus. This completed a very total turn-around indeed, and must have comforted Ananias that this mission of his would not end in harm to himself or even his own arrest. He could be assured that this one who formerly caused suffering would now himself learn what it means to suffer for the sake of the Lord Jesus.
We learn from this passage that Saul was shown in advance all the suffering he was going to go through for the sake of the Lord Jesus. He was more or less given a preview of all the terrible things he would suffer because he acknowledged this Name. Thus every beating, every shipwreck, every betrayal, every hardship did not come as a surprise to this man Saul. He knew them all in advance. This becomes rather amazing when we consider all that Saul went through during his ministry for the Lord. II Corinthians 11:23-28 lists some of them.
24. Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. 24. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26. in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27. in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— 28. besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.
This amazing list tells us just the sufferings Saul went through up until the writing of II Corinthians, which was by no means at the end of his ministry. If he was shown all these things in advance, then it was a terrible sight indeed. It is difficult to imagine any man being able to face up to such things if he knew they were coming. Yet I think there was one fact that helped to keep him going, which we read in II Corinthians 12:1-4.
1. It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: 2. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. 3. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4. how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
Saul in seeking not to boast speaks as if he was speaking of someone else here, but I believe that he was in reality speaking of himself and something that had happened to him. He saw paradise, the way the earth will be once it becomes all God meant it to be, and he saw the third heaven, that “new heaven” that is yet to come. Thus, he saw the outcome of all that God was doing. And I believe that once he saw all that his sufferings were related to, he was willing to endure them. He was willing to suffer so greatly because he knew what the end, the reward, would be.
It is amazing to think that every time Saul was beaten, he had seen in advance that it would happen. Every time he suffered shipwreck, it was something he had seen in advance. Even when he was stoned, he had been expecting it. I think we can all be thankful that we do not know the bad things that might come upon us in the future. Yet Saul knew. And still, he made this amazing declaration in Romans 8:18.
18. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
When we consider these words in the light of all Saul suffered, they are amazing indeed. The reward he saw at the end must have been greater than we can imagine, for him to consider this so in the light of all he suffered! Praise God that we have this testimony to the glorious character of our reward. Through Saul’s testimony, we can know that this will all be worth it!
17. And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Ananias is satisfied with the Lord’s explanation, and he goes on the way the Lord had sent him. Thus, he enters the house he was told to seek on Straight Street and, finding Saul there as the Lord had said, lays his hands on him. He speaks and calls Saul brother. Now here was a man of faith, for we know that all he had heard of Saul up until this time had shown him to be anything but a “brother.” Yet the Lord had told him this, and he believed it. Ananias also refers to him as Saoul, his Hebrew name rather than the Greek Saulos, as a term of further companionship and respect.
Now he informs Saul that the Lord Jesus, the very one who appeared to him in the road as he came to Damascus, has sent him to see that Saul receives his sight and is filled with holy spirit. “Holy Spirit” here is pneumatos hagiou or “spirit holy,” and refers to the power, not the Person of the Spirit. Saul is to receive the Spirit’s power for the work he has been chosen to carry out.
There is an important fact here that we will miss if we look merely at the translation, here the New King James Version that I typically use, and do not look behind it at what this read in the Greek. In the Greek, the word for “has sent” is apestalken, which is merely a past tense form of the verb apostello, from which we get the noun “apostle.” Thus, Ananias did not just tell Saul that he was sent to him. He told him he was apostled to him. Moreover, the one who apostled him was Jesus Christ. Thus, there can be no doubt but that Ananias was Christ’s apostle. Some tend to look at this title as applying only to a very few men in the Acts period, like to the twelve and Paul. Yet the truth as we see it here tells a different story. Anyone who was sent authoritatively by the Lord to do any task for him had been apostled. This title should not be confined just to those few men.
Now there can be no doubt but that Ananias’ commission was very short. He was sent to Saul to restore his sight and to cause him to be filled with holy power. Once he had done this, his mission was completed, and he was no longer Christ’s apostle. This shows us that the reality of being an apostle was not so much an office that you held as it was a job that you did. Ananias was sent to do an apostle’s work, and while he did that, he was an apostle. Once he had finished that task, he was no longer an apostle. This was not a title he carried permanently.
This truth gives us a much different and much more accurate picture of what is going on in this book, and what the Acts of the Apostles are all about. When we understand that the acts of the apostles were the deed of those sent by God with His authority to do things, then we can see what is truly going on throughout the pages of this book. We will not see men stumbling along trying to do the best they can, like we see today. Instead, we will see God-commissioned men carrying out God-ordained tasks with His power, authority, and inspiration. We will not be able to criticize their actions, or act like we know better what they should have done than they did. Instead, we will recognize that all that was occurring at that time was orchestrated by God. This is important, and will be a fact that guides our study as we continue to examine this book of Acts.
18. Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.
Ananias has no sooner spoken these words than something fell from Saul’s eyes that was like scales, and he received his sight at once. Saul was made to see, but this is just a symbol of what was already true. Saul had been blinded long before the Damascus road, though the blindness had not affected his eyes, but rather his mind and his heart. He had been blinded by the traditions of the Pharisees, by the opinions of his fellows, by his culture and upbringing, and even, perhaps, by his own pride. Yet now the Lord had taken the blindness away from Saul, and he now saw clearly the truth. Thus these scales that blocked his physical sight were just a type of the true scales that had kept him from the truth, until God stepped in and took those scales away.
Once Saul could see, he arose and was baptized. Now many will jump in here and imagine that something like the water baptisms they perform in their churches is what happened to Saul here. Yet there is no indication in the passage that this is so. All we know is that he was baptized. As I have explained in previous chapters, this word has not been translated when it was brought into English, but only transliterated from Greek letters to the Arabic script we use in English. If we were to translate this word, we would translate it “identified.” There is nothing here to tell us that water was used. If anyone asked us how this was done, we would have to reply that we do not know. Yet we do know that Ananias had been sent by Jesus Christ with His authority, so whatever was needed to identify Saul, he was able to do it. The important thing here is that he was now identified with Jesus Christ, the One he had been hating and persecuting. How this identification was accomplished is not so important, only that Ananias had the authority to do it.
19. So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.
Saul had been fasting since his arrival in Damascus, and it had made him weak. Now, however, he received food, and he was strengthened. Saul then clung eagerly to his new-found companions in the faith, spending some days with them there in Damascus. This is often still true of new believers today, in that they suddenly desire to spend time with those who agree with them in their new-found faith, rather than those who perhaps were their friends before. This is a good thing, for new believers usually need a lot of teaching and guidance.