The Raising of Dorcas


I. The Context of this Event and the Divine Logic

A. It shows a progression of the work of the Spirit through the apostles, Peter specifically, of increasingly Spirit-dependent activity.

1. The healing of the paralytic Aeneas (9:32-35). This healing was a remarkable work of God, obviously so, since the man had been bed-ridden for eight years.

2. The raising of Dorcas from death (9:36-43). In harmony with other raisings we see in Scripture (listed below), this is a clear manifestation of something only God can do.

3. The challenge to the perpetuity of the ceremonial law and the Spirit’s descent on the Gentiles for their conversion (Chapter 10). This is presented as an event of power greater than the raising of Dorcas. This involved changing Peter’s mind about the inviolability of the ceremonial law, his presence in a Gentile home, and the conversion of the uncircumcised.

4. Conversion is likened to a resurrection and a creation (Ephesians 2:1-10) but is more remarkable for it involves, not just the giving of physical life, but the radical alteration of affections of a physically alive person from a path of eternal death to a path of eternal life.

B. It aligns the apostolic movement with the time of the prophets and the ministry of Jesus.

1.Elijah and the widow’s son at Zarephath, 1 Kings 17: 17-24 – This called for isolation, times of prayer, reasoning with God, meditation, exertion of physical energy, expression of distress, and a presentation of the newly-living child. The mother concluded, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

2. Elisha raised the son of the Shunammite woman in 2 Kings 4:33. The actions of Elisha were very similar to those of Elijah. Isolation of himself with the dead child, prayer, contact of body to body and then resuscitation. The woman showed great respect  for Elisha.

3. Restoration of life to a dead man at the touch of Elisha’s bones (2 Kings 13:21).

4. Jesus raised the daughter of a “ruler of the synagogue” named Jairus (Matthew 9:25; Mark 5:22-43). Jesus stopped the commotion, put the people outside. Peter, James, and John, along with the girl’s parents were allowed to be with him. He took her hand, told her to get up, and the girl arose. He charged them that no one should know this.

5. Jesus raised the son of the widow of Nain. (Luke 7:15) – Jesus initiated this encounter at the sight of the pitiableness of the situation. In this very public venue, Jesus spoke to the dead man, “Young man, I say to you, ’Rise.’” The crowd glorified God and said that a great prophet had arisen and God had visited his people.

6. Jesus raised Lazarus (John 11:38-44). Again, there was a great commotion and mourners were all around. Jesus himself was moved deeply at all the circumstances of the death. He called Lazarus forth, four days dead, wrapped in grave clothes. This event sparked more intense efforts for the religious leadership of the Jews to seek to kill Jesus (11:53, 54).

7. Saints arose from the dead at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus and came out of their tombs after his resurrection (Matthew 27:52, 53).

II. Why Are some resuscitated from death to life?

A. Dorcas in particular – The text indicates that Dorcas was a woman of great compassion and ability who gave herself to the relief of those who were needy; she was “full of good works and acts of charity” making garments for them. Peter had been present when, for the purity of the church, God had taken the lives of Ananias and Sapphira, who conspired to lie and deceive. Now he is present, and the human instrument, in the restoring of life to one whose acts of mercy exemplified the earthly compassion of Jesus in true self-giving.

B. Principle of Resurrection – To Aeneas Peter had said, “Jesus Christ heals you.” Now he prays, obviously in the name of Jesus, or perhaps to Jesus, as he had been taught (John 14:12-14; 15:16). This illustrated what Jesus said in John 5:25-29, that the dead would hear the voice of the Son of God and live. Jesus, like the Father, has life-in-himself (that is, is self-existent) and gives life to whom he will (“In him was life, and the life was the light of men” John 1:4). Resurrection (or resuscitation in these cases) shows that, though the body dies, the person still lives. The body is restored to life when the soul is called back into it. God gives sufficient evidence, even apart from the resurrection of Christ that all moral beings will be called to account for their moral stance in this life: “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28, 29).

C. Principle of Election – In the day of judgment all will be raised. In this life, before the final resurrection, those restored to life have been very few. Surely, Stephen should have been raised from the dead, or James the brother of John (Acts 12:2) if the principle were immediate usefulness in the work of the kingdom. Such is not the case. Finally, the reason is hidden in God himself but always is designed to give him glory and give evidence to the reality that nothing skirts his observation or is beyond the pale of his power.

III. As on other occasions of demonstrations of power, many “believed in the Lord.” (4:4, 21; 5:14-16; 8:6-8; 9:35). Some years ago a movement called “Power Evangelism” sought to make a standard of these kinds of phenomena in the New Testament as regular precursors to effective, God-glorifying evangelism. While it is true that these events became occasions for the conversion of some, those conversion came only because of the intrinsic power of divine truth pressed into the conscience by the power of the Holy Spirit. The regular context of evangelism is not manifestations of power, but the preached word of God centering on the gospel (Acts 2:37; 4:2-4; 5:20, 21; 8:25, 40; 9:22; 9:28, 29). The manifestations of power and the miraculous came for the purpose of identifying the apostolic ministry as a parallel to the ministry of the prophets and in giving confirmation to their words about Jesus (2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:1-4). Not by the power of the miraculous, but by the power of the Spirit in the context of the preaching of truth does God give his blessing of salvation (1 Thessalonians 1:4, 5).

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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