Signs and Miracles Follow Peter
Luke’s data for this period is clearly sketchy,
He is better informed about the period after the Jerusalem council.
Signs and miracles follow Peter DIG: What is the purpose of these signs and wonders (see 2:22 and 43, 4:30, 5:12-14, 9:35)? Although Peter had healed many people, he had never raised anyone from the dead. What might he have felt as he went into Tabitha’s home? Which of Yeshua’s miracles do these two incidents remind you of?
REFLECT: Why is it that Tabitha could be raised, but Stephen died, even though Peter was there also (8:2)? How would you explain God’s ways to Stephen’s widow or mother? How might what happened as a result of Stephen’s death and Tabitha’s resurrection help you to understand? How have you experienced God’s healing in your life? What resulted from this healing for others?
The scene now shifts from Sha’ul back to Peter, who will again be the central figure in the narrative for the next three chapters. Since we know that Sha’ul/Paul will be the emissary to the Gentiles, because the Gentiles need to be saved (Genesis 12:3). Only Peter could do this since he had the keys to the Kingdom. Sha’ul had been converted and had boldly proclaimed his newfound faith both in Damascus and Jerusalem. His preaching had so enraged his opponents that first in Damascus, then in Yerushalayim, they tried to kill him. At this point he had fled from Tziyon to his hometown of Tarsus. Ten years later, as recorded in Acts 13, Paul’s ministry would dominate the rest of the book.200
The continued expansion of the Messianic Community outside Jerusalem required movement on Peter’s part. The statement that Peter was traveling among them all shows the ceaseless itinerant character of Peter’s ministry at that time. On one of his trips, he came down as well to the kedoshim (holy ones) living in Lydda, on the plain below Yerushalayim, about ten miles east of Joppa and Modern Tel Aviv less than two miles from David Ben-Gurion Airport. When Peter arrived there, he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden for eight years – he was paralyzed and faced the prospect of being bedridden for the rest of his life. Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Messiah Yeshua (not Peter) heals you. Get up and pack up your bed.” Immediately, he got up! Messiah, and His apostles healed with a word or a touch; their healings were instantaneous and complete. The B’rit Chadashah knows nothing of gradual healings. The spiritual fruit was dramatic. All [the Jews] who lived in Lydda and the Plain of Sharon north of Lydda, saw him, and they turned to the Lord. But the majority of the people who lived on the coastal plain of Sharon were Gentiles, and they also turned to the Lord (9:32-35). Jesus had commissioned Peter to care for His sheep (John 21:15-17), and Peter was faithful to fulfill that commission.
In Joppa (ten miles northwest of Lydda), there was a disciple whose Aramaic name was Tabitha, and her Greek name was Dorcas, meaning gazelle. So she had both a Jewish name and a Greek name probably because she lived in an area that was primarily Gentile. She was full of mitzvot and tzedakah (charitable works and giving alms), and made coats for widows, which she continually did. In those days, she became ill and died. This was a considerable blow to the believers there. When they had washed her for burial, which was customary. However, instead of burying her immediately, they placed her in an upstairs room. Now according to the Oral Law (see the commentary on The Life of Christ, to see link click Ei – The Oral Law), in Jerusalem a body had to be buried before sundown, but outside Tziyon a body could remain unburied for three days and three nights. Since Lydda was near the coastal city of Joppa, the disciples – hearing that Peter was there – sent two men on the half-day journey to him, begging him, “Please come to us without delay” (9:36-38)!201
We usually think of the apostles as leaders who told other people what to do, but often the people commanded them (for Peter’s philosophy of ministry see First Peter Chapter 5)! Peter was a leader who served the people and was ready to respond to their call. He had the authority to heal, and he used it to glorify God and help people, not to promote himself.202
No doubt they had also heard of his healing of Aeneas, and they believed that Peter could use his authority as an emissary to help Dorcus. There were many believers in the city of Joppa and if miracles were commonly practiced, one of them could have come and brought Dorcus back to life. But contrary to the teaching of many today, the Messianic community in the book of Acts was not a miracle-working community. Rather, it was a Messianic community with miracle-working apostles. Therefore, the believers in Lydda had faith that the Lord could raise Dorcus from the dead through Peter’s authority as an emissary.
So Peter got up and went with them. When he arrived, they took him to the upstairs room and he saw firsthand how much they loved Dorcas and what a loss her death was for the Messianic congregation at Joppa. All the widows were crying and were wearing all the coats and other clothing Dorcas had made while she was with them (9:39). They probably wore the things she had made to show that she was worthy of the resurrection.
As Peter had seen the Lord do when He raised Jairus’ daughter (see the Commentary on The Life of Christ Fh – Jesus Raises a Dead Girl and Heals a Sick Woman), he sent them all outside, and he got down on his knees and prayed (9:40). Prayer is essential to all successful ministry because it acknowledges dependence on ADONAI. Now to Him who is able to do far beyond all that we ask or imagine, by means of His power that works in us (Ephesians 3:20). Peter learned the importance of prayer from His Lord, had seen and heard Him many times in communion with His Father (Matthew 14:23; Luke 6:12-13).
Then, having finished praying, he turned to the body and said: Tabitha, get up! She opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and raised her up. Then he called the kedoshim and widows and presented her alive (9:41). We must remember that Tabitha was not resurrected; she was resuscitated to her old life, and she would die again.203 The gift of healing was the same for the apostles as it was for their Master. They healed with a word or a touch, they healed organic diseases from birth (see Ap – Peter Heals a Lame Beggar), they healed instantly and they raised the dead (see Ci – Paul Raised Eutychus From the Dead at Troas). Anyone who claims to have the gift of healing today should be able to do likewise. For those who loved Tabitha their joy must have been inexpressible. However, God did not raise her solely for their benefit, as would soon become evident.
Because the book of Acts is a transitional book, God used miracles as confirming signs that the gospel was true. He also used them to authenticate the apostles as His messengers. YHVH used the raising of Tabitha as the spark for the salvation of the city. And it became known throughout Joppa, and many came to believe in the Lord (9:42). This footnote serves as a bridge between this passage and the following account of Cornelius’ conversion. These were challenging days for Peter, as the walls of his lifelong prejudices came tumbling down. First came the conversion of the Samaritans (see Ba – Simon the Sorcerer), with whom no self-respecting Jew had any dealings. Yet Peter was obedient to welcome them as brothers and sisters in the faith. Soon he will come to an even greater shock as the Gentiles enter the Messianic Community.
So it happened that Peter stayed on in Joppa for several days with Simon, a tanner (9:43). In this seemingly insignificant footnote, yet another barrier comes crashing down, as Peter stayed with a tanner. Tanning was considered an unclean occupation (Leviticus 11:40) in first-century Jewish society since it dealt with the skins of dead animals. Thus tanners had to live fifty cubits outside the city limits. But obviously this tanner was a believer and the fact that Peter would stay with him foreshadowed what would follow in Acts 10.
A closer look at Luke, Women and Ministry: Luke was a Gentile who wrote more of the New Covenant than anyone else including Paul. That being said, an understanding of non-Jewish women in the Greco-Roman world is important. Roman women were patronesses, benefactors, and business owners. The Hellenistic revolution had considerably changed the role of Greek women in various places, especially Macedonia and Asia Minor. These women held distinguished civic and federal magistracies. The offices they held include federal positions that are entirely absent from Acts. In such an environment it should not be a surprise to find a Priscilla (Acts 18:2 and 18-19; First Corinthians 16:19) or a Lydia (16:14), or a number of prominent Greek women (17:12), among the early converts to the Way who continued to exercise important roles both within and without the Messianic Community/Church, especially as hostesses and patronesses, but also as prophetesses, teachers and the like.
One key to understanding how such roles for women were possible in an admittedly strong patriarchal Mediterranean culture is understanding how status was achieved during the Roman Empire. Increasingly money was able to create social status, standing, and civic positions for both women and men in the Roman world, as the older class distinctions and emphasis on inherited or birth rank and ethnic origins became less important to determine the future of women and men. It is by studying how the larger Roman world worked that one can better assess the roles of believing women as portrayed by Luke.
Luke, like Paul, like other early believers thought that their faith committed them to the reforming of some of the existing patriarchal structures so that women could play more vital and varied roles in the community of faith. To that end, Luke presents five cameos of important believing women in a variety of roles they assumed. In Miriam, the mother of John Mark (12:12-17) and in Lydia (16:12-40), we see women assuming the role of “mother” or patron and benefactor to the then fledgling believing communities in Yerushalayim and Philippi respectively. Like them, in the story of Tabitha (see above), a notable female disciple with an ongoing ministry, we find someone providing material aid to a particularly needy group of early Hellenistic Jewish widows (6:1-7). Luke’s mention of Philip’s four virgin daughters who prophesied is brief (21:9), but when compared to Acts 2:17 it is sufficient to show that women played important roles in the early Messianic Community/Church. Perhaps the most important is Luke’s reference to Priscilla as a teacher of a noble early Christian evangelist, Apollos, in Acts 18. We will examine these stories in more detail as the commentary goes on.
In the final analysis, by the very fact that Luke portrays women performing these various roles, he shows how the gospel liberates and creates new opportunities for women. It is probably true that Luke is not interested in women and their roles for their own sake; rather he stresses how the gospel manifested itself and progressed among the female population in various parts of the Mediterranean world. In Jerusalem (1:14, 12:12-17), in Thessalonica (7:4), in Berea (17:12), and in Athens (17:34), we find women being converted or serving the congregations of God in roles that in many cases would not have been available to them apart from that community. Thus, Luke lists the progress of women as part of the progress and effects of the gospel. Though it is not perhaps one of his major themes in Acts, nonetheless he takes care to reveal to his audience that where the gospel went, women, often prominent, were some of the first, foremost, and most faithful converts to the Christian faith, and that their conversion led to their assuming new roles in the service of the gospel. That being said, Luke’s portrait of women in the early life of the Messianic Community/Church needs to be compared to and supplemented by Paul’s more full and accurate record (see the commentary on Genesis Lv – I Do Not Permit a Woman to Teach or Have Authority Over Men – which I would highly recommend that you read, it is a thorough examination of the Greek text and my conclusions are quite different than the title would suggest).204