The Book of ACTS
James J. Barker

Lesson 17

Text: ACTS 9:20-31


  1. After the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the people were amazed (9:20, 21).
  2. Their arch-enemy was now preaching the Gospel message he had worked hard to destroy.
  3. I have entitled this message, "But Saul Increased the More in Strength" (9:22). This means Paul made rapid strides in his new faith in Christ.
  4. I mentioned Wednesday night that Paul said his conversion was "a pattern" to other believers (I Timothy 1:16).
  5. Second Peter 3:18 says, "But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." This means each and every Christian has the potential to grow into a great Christian like the apostle Paul. He is our "pattern" or model.
  6. This passage should be studied along with Paul's epistles. For example, in Galatians 1:17 and 18, Paul wrote, "Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days."
  7. This extended period of time is passed over in Acts 9. Verse 23 simply says, "And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him."



  1. There are several references to Paul's preaching in our text. Verse 20 says, " And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God."
  2. Verse 22 says, "But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ."
  3. Verse 27 says Paul "had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus."
  4. Verse 29 says, "And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him."
  5. Acts 9:22 says, "But Saul increased the more in strength." This means he was a strong preacher. Every time we see this word in Scripture it is referring to spiritual strength.
  6. Romans 4:20 says Abraham was "was strong in faith."
  7. Ephesians 6:10 says, "Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might."
  8. Philippians 4:13 says, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."
  9. First Timothy 1:12 says, "And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled (same word in Greek) me..."
  10. In II Timothy 2:1, Paul tells Timothy, "Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus."
  11. In II Timothy 4:17, Paul says, "Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me..."
  12. Hebrews 11:34 says the Old Testament prophets "quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong..."
  13. The Jews were "confounded" (9:22) at Paul's spiritual strength, his dramatic change, and his powerful preaching -- "proving that this is very Christ" (9:22).
  14. In Galatians 1:16-18, Paul says that after his conversion he "conferred not with flesh and blood." Paul says he "went into Arabia." Undoubtedly he spent much time alone studying the Old Testament Scriptures. This is how he was able to "prove" to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah (Acts 9:22).
  15. Acts 9:22 says the Jews were confounded. They were bewildered. And so they decided to kill him (9:23).



  1. In addition to several references to Paul's preaching, there are also a few references to plots to have him killed (9:23-25, 29).
  2. Paul referred to his dramatic escape in Damascus in II Corinthians 11:32 and 33.
  3. After escaping from Damascus, Paul went to Jerusalem (9:26). The Christians in Jerusalem, remembering his days as a persecutor, "were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple" (9:26b; cf. 9:13).
  4. Some probably thought Paul was a spy attempting to gather information. In any event, "Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles..." (9:27).
  5. We are told in Acts 4:36 that Barnabas was the name given to him by the other disciples, and it means, "The son of consolation," and here we see why. Barnabas was a great encourager!
  6. Barnabas brought Paul to the apostles. Peter and James, our Lord's brother, are mentioned in Galatians 1:18 and 19.
  7. Acts 9:29 says Paul "spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him."
  8. The Jews in Damascus tried to kill Paul, and the Jews in Jerusalem tried to kill him too (9:23, 29).
  9. But the Lord would not allow Paul to be killed until much later (cf. 9:15, 16).
  10. Over thirty years later, Paul wrote these words, "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" (II Tim. 4:6-8).
  11. Much was accomplished in those thirty years. Fourteen epistles (if you include the book of Hebrews) in our New Testament were written. Many souls were saved, many churches established, and many men like Timothy and Titus were trained for the ministry.
  12. Referring to the antagonism the Jews had for Paul and Stephen, and the other Gospel preachers, John Phillips wrote these words: "Increasingly now Judaism was turning against Christ, the Holy Spirit, the church, and Christianity. Within a few decades judgment would fall. The Temple, now the rallying point of opposition to the gospel, would be burned to the ground, and the Jews would be scattered again, left to wander deeper and deeper into the maze of an ever-growing Talmud" (Exploring Acts).



  1. First, Paul went to Caesarea, a seaport which at that time was the Roman capital of Palestine (9:30). From there Paul took a ship back home to Tarsus.
  2. We know from Paul's testimony in Acts 22 that the Lord Himself told Paul to leave Jerusalem (22:17-21). So Paul obeyed the Lord and returned to his home town of Tarsus.
  3. Paul spent several years in Tarsus, before his friend Barnabas came to Tarsus and asked him to help with the new church established in Antioch (11:25, 26).
  4. Charles Ryrie said this about Paul's trip back to Tarsus, "This must have been a very difficult time, for the one who had gone away as a promising rabbinical student had now returned as a despised Christian" (The Acts of the Apostles).
  5. We know very little about Paul's ministry during this period. In Galatians 1:21, he says, "Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia."
  6. Acts 15:23 and 41 indicates Paul established churches in Syria and Cilicia.
  7. Apparently the Jews stopped their persecution when Paul left Jerusalem. Acts 9:31 says, "Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria..."
  8. This does not mean they grew complacent or lazy because the verse goes on to say they "were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied" (9:31b).
  9. You will remember, in the beginning of the book of Acts, there are references to believers being "added" to the church.
  10. Acts 2:41 says, "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls."
  11. Acts 2:47 says, "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved."
  12. Acts 5:14 says, "And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women."
  13. Then in Acts 6, it goes from addition to multiplication. "And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied" (6:1).
  14. "And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly" (Acts 6:7; cf. 9:31; 12:24).
  15. From now on there was both addition and multiplication. Referring to Barnabas, Acts 11:24 says, "For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord."
  16. Let us get serious about winning souls and we will see both addition and multiplication here in our Elmont area!
  17. Spurgeon said, "I ask you what there was in Paul, by the grace of God, which may not be in you, and what had Jesus done for Paul more than for you? He was divinely changed; and so have you been if you have passed from darkness into marvellous light. He had much forgiven; and so have you also been freely pardoned. He was redeemed by the blood of the Son of God; and so have you been,—at least, so you profess to have been. He was filled with the Spirit of God; and so are you, if you are truly such as your Christian profession makes you out to be" (The Soul Winner).



  1. I have stated many times in this series that whereas the emphasis in the four Gospels is the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, the emphasis in the book of Acts is the Lord Jesus Christ working in Christians through the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).
  2. I agree with A.T. Pierson, who said the Acts of the Apostles should be studied mainly "to trace our Lord's unseen but actual continuance of His divine teaching and working; and secondly, to trace the active ministry of the Holy Spirit as the abiding presence in the church" (The Acts of the Holy Spirit).
  3. In Acts 9:31 we read that the churches were "walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost."
  4. This means they were walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Comforter -- the same word our Lord used for the Holy Spirit in John 14, 15, and 16.
  5. The Holy Spirit directs, helps, encourages, and comforts those who obey Him.
  6. A.T. Pierson said, "But is it not already too evident that the church of our day has little or no conception of the pricelessness of blessing involved in this paraclesis of the Spirit?" (The Acts of the Holy Spirit).

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