Acts 9:32–43 . . .
“Peter Ministers to Aeneas and Dorcas”
Acts 9 began with a zealous man breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord (v. 1). But God was more than able to turn this terrible threat into a great blessing. Now Luke wants us to know that God's work wasn't only continuing but it was strong, despite the great opposition that had come against it. Today we'll learn how God worked miracles through the apostle Peter who'll heal the lame and raise people from the dead.
Peter Heals Aeneas at Lydda (9:32–35)
Peter has boldly proclaimed the gospel in Jerusalem. In our summary of 8:1–25), Peter and John went down to Samaria where they heard that many had trusted in Jesus. It wasn't until these two apostles arrived and laid their hands on the new believers that all could see that the Spirit had come in power. After departing Samaria, Peter visited a number of Israelite cities to which the saints in Jerusalem had scattered (see 8:1, 4 ff.). In today's text, Peter first visits Lydda, then Joppa, before he'll arrive in Caesarea, which we'll see in next week's summary of 10:1-23).
The previous pattern of the apostles staying put in Jerusalem while those needing ministry came from afar to them (as reflected in v. 5:16) is now shifting. Peter traveled about the country to do ministry, traveling the twenty-five miles from Jerusalem to Lydda.
There was a group of believers in Lydda. Aeneas may well have been one of these believers, though we cannot say for sure. Nevertheless, Peter encountered him — a paralyzed man, confined to a bed or mat for eight years. Seeing his condition, Peter spoke up, telling this man that Jesus the Christ had healed him. He then instructed Aeneas to get up and take his mat with him. He got up and walked; he presumably took his mat with him. Seeing this miraculous healing inspired many others to trust in Jesus for their physical healing and spiritual salvation.
Power and Name Peter clearly identified who it was who'd done the healing: Jesus the Christ. Peter was only Jesus' instrument. He didn't heal with "the power of Peter." Instead, he relied solely on the power of Jesus. Realize too that Peter found Aeneas when he set out to minister to others in the name of Jesus. If we would be as hearty as Peter was, going through all parts of the country, we'd also find opportunities to use the miraculous power of God and introduce people to him and his kingdom.
This healing is reminiscent of the healing of the paralytic in Luke 5. Two similarities are evident: First, the condition of the man in Luke’s gospel is similar to that of the lame man in vv. 32–35 in that both men were paralyzed; second, the words Peter spoke to Aeneas were similar to those spoken by Jesus: “Get up, take your mat and go home” (Luke 5:24). . . “Get up and roll up your mat.” (Acts 9:34). We'll see more about this similarity below.
Tabitha/Dorcas Raised from the Dead at Joppa (vv. 36–42)
Both the names Dorcas and Tabitha mean "deer." Because this woman was full of good works and charitable deeds, she was a beloved member of the Christian community in Joppa. Luke makes it clear that Tabitha was always doing good and helping the poor. Some people today are full of good works and charitable deeds, but their fullness of them is in their minds and hearts only; they don't actually do good for others as Tabitha had done.
Because Peter was some distance away, Dorcas would likely have been dead for a considerable period of time before he arrived — long enough that his raising her from death to life would have been a substantial miracle (similar to Jesus raising Lazarus from death, i.e., John 11). This is the first record of Peter (or any other apostle) raising someone from the dead. The power of the Lord was clearly upon Peter.
This second miracle is similar to the raising of Jairus' daughter, as recorded in Mark 5:21–43 and Luke 8:40–56. Peter not only did what Jesus had done, he did it while speaking similar words — "Talitha, cumi," which is translated to “Little girl, I say to you, get up.” He seems to have remembered the healing that Jesus performed when he brought the daughter of the synagogue ruler back to life. In that healing, Jesus said, "Talitha, cumi." In today's healing passage, Peter says almost identically (in the original language of Acts), "Tabitha cumi." Peter could hear Jesus' words in his head as he ministered.
To be clear, Dorcas (and Lazarus) wasn't resurrected; she was resuscitated to her old life; she certainly died again. Why did Peter raise Dorcas from the dead? There's no indication that anyone asked him to; and we can't say that it was Peter's custom to raise each dead believer that he'd seen. It must have been a response to the direct leading of whom? Yes, the Holy Spirit!
Looking at Peter, Backwards and Forwards
In spite of Peter’s love for the Lord Jesus, his growth in the faith, and the power that God had manifested in his life and ministry, he held the same views of his unbelieving Jewish brethren. And so did the rest of the apostles. So God set out to change Peter’s thinking in a way that was nearly as dramatic as Saul's conversion, as described in Acts 9:1–19).
Peter’s change of mind was progressive, just as Paul’s conversion involved a process. Geographically, the progress is most evident: Peter started in Jerusalem, then went down to Samaria and its towns (8:14, 25); some time later, he was found in Lydda (9:32) and then at Joppa (9:39, 43), and then at Caesarea (10:24); after this, he'd return to Jerusalem (11:2).
Peter’s arrival in Lydda was the occasion for his encounter with Aeneas, who was healed of his eight-year-long paralysis, in the name of Jesus Christ (9:32–34). This healing led to the conversion of many and the broadcasting of Peter’s reputation and presence to those in the nearby town of Joppa (cf. 9:38). When Dorcas died, some of the disciples in Joppa sent for Peter. We aren't told why they sent for him, or what they asked him to do. Was Dorcas still alive when they first sent for Peter? Had she died before he was sent? Did they dare to think that God might raise her to life through Peter, a miracle that Peter hadn't previously performed?
The method Peter used likely surprises us. He went to Joppa where he sent everyone out of the room in which the woman’s body was laid. Peter then prayed. We aren't told for what he prayed, but he became convinced that he should pray that God would raise this woman from death. Only after she was alive did Peter call in the others and present her to them, alive. This miracle of life was used so that God would bring many to faith; it also resulted in Peter’s change of location, from Lydda to Joppa, where Peter had an extended stay with tanner Simon.
This sequence of events removed Peter from Jerusalem and from the legalistic separatism of his Jewish brethren. Drama would indeed unfold for him: It put him in contact, no doubt, with a larger number of Gentiles; it resulted in his contact with a woman who'd died and was ceremonially unclean; it also put Peter in constant daily contact with a tanner, a man who handled dead animals; it would seem that, having been a Jew, some of Peter’s involvement with “unclean” things should have been prevented or curtailed.
If Peter's change of setting was preparatory in his life, making him more open to the invitation to go into the house of Simon a Gentile, the miracles that Peter had performed (by divine intervention) are also significant. True, the miracle of his healing the paralytic wasn't so spectacular, for similar healings had previously taken place by Peter’s hand (cf. Acts 3). But what was spectacular was the raising of a dead woman, something which isn't said to have happened previously through Peter.
Because he stayed "for some time" in Joppa with the tanner Simon, we see that Peter was less concerned about Jewish traditions and ceremonial notions than he was before. This work of God's within Peter's heart laid the groundwork for what God will do with Peter in the next chapter (10:1–23).
The important changes that took place in Peter were those pertaining to his understanding of the relationship between the “clean” and the “unclean,” i.e., the Jews and the Gentiles. Notice the sequence of events that God brought about in Peter’s life and how he realized progressively what it all meant.
- Q. 1 How does the results of Tabitha's resuscitation help you to understand God's plans?
- Q. 2 Do miracles like these happen in the same way today?
New International Version (NIV) [View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to chapter 9.]
† Watch this video clip of Acts 9:32–11:10, starring Bruce Marchiano as Jesus, James Brolin as Simon Peter, Harry O. Arnold as Saul/Paul, and Dean Jones as Luke.
Aeneas and Dorcas
32As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda. 33There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. 34“Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. 35All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
36In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”
39Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.
40Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. 43Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.