In Acts 9:36-43 we have Luke’s recording of the miracle of Peter raising Tabitha or Dorcas from the dead. This is the first account of anyone after Christ raising anyone from the dead, which causes me to wonder why the believers at Joppa would believe Peter should be called to raise up this woman who did so many good works. What would cause them to believe that Peter could raise up Tabitha? I am not alone in believing that they had sent for Peter before Tabitha died. Otherwise, why tell Peter to hurry. Jesus didn’t hurry to raise up Lazarus, so, if Tabitha had already died, why would it be necessary for Peter to hurry? In any case what Jesus did through Peter here, he also did through Paul at Acts 20:9-12; but what does all this mean—what is Luke telling us, or more immediately his addressee, Theophilus?
First of all, the raising of the dead is a sign that the last days are upon us, and Theophilus would have understood Luke’s implication. Secondly, Peter’s miracle of raising the dead in Acts 9 and Paul’s in Acts 20 remind us of Jesus, in the beginning of his public ministry, raising up the young man, the only son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17). Moreover, these miracles also have types in the Old Testament where Elijah in 1Kings 17:17-24 raised up the dead son of the gentile widow dwelling in Zidon whereupon the widow declared that all of what Elijah had claimed was true. A second example is found in 2Kings 4:8-37 where Elisha not only healed the state of a barren Shunammite woman, but when her son had an accident and died, the prophet raised him from the dead. Nevertheless, we have to ask if these things have any meaning more than a simple act of kindness meant for the folks involved.
I believe these miracles have a deeper meaning, and Theophilus, if indeed he was the high priest of Jerusalem and the son of Annas, would not have missed what Luke was saying. If we consider what was going on when Luke wrote his Gospel account and then when he finished the account of Acts, we would understand that in both instances the Temple was in danger of destruction. When Luke offered his Gospel to the then reigning high priest, Theophilus, the persecution of believers was carried on by the Temple authorities, and Caligula had been threatening to place a statue of himself within the Temple compound. Had Caesar done this, war would have broken out between Rome and Jerusalem with the inevitable effect of the destruction of the Jewish nation and the Temple at Jerusalem. Theophilus ceased persecuting the believing community (Acts 9:31) and war between Rome and Jerusalem was averted.
The persecution of believers by the Temple authorities resumed a few years later (Acts 12), increasing in intensity as the years went by. Paul was arrested and accused of blasphemous acts against the Temple and subversive activity against Caesar (Acts 21-24). By the time Luke was finishing up his last submission to Acts, war had already broken out between Rome and Jerusalem. Annas, the high priest, was killed in the first days of the war in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 26:64 (cp. Mark 14:62). Theophilus’ son, Matthias, was the last legal high priest reigning and Theophilus was the patriarch of the Annas family of priests. God, through Luke, was submitting to him a peace offering via the book of Acts. Cease the persecution, admit wrong doing concerning Paul before Caesar by taking the consequences of falsely accusing a Roman citizen, and he, Theophilus, would save his nation from destruction, including the Temple.
This may sound a bit bizarre, but when one looks at the miracles in Acts and considers what occurred during the first destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple by Babylon, what at first seems strange unfolds into what should be obvious to the reader—at least it does for me. As Jeremiah mourned over the first destruction of Jerusalem, he described the city as a widow bereft of her sons (Lamentations 1:1-8). She was apparently without hope of a Messiah through David’s lineage. Zedekiah’s sons were all executed and Jeconiah’s sons were made eunuchs in Babylon. Jerusalem, the widow, lay destroyed and barren without hope.
Nevertheless, the Scriptures show the God of Israel is merciful and loving. He remembers his promises to David and is willing to lift Israel out of her trouble. In Isaiah 54:1-6 Jerusalem is again described as the barren one, having no children (princes or heirs to the throne). The Lord, himself, says he will build up her walls and place her gates in their proper places (Isaiah 54:11-12). How was this to be done? The Lord described himself through Isaiah not only as Jerusalem’s Husband (Isaiah 54:5), but also her Redeemer. The context of the title, Redeemer, is not in the sense that is usually understood by Christians today. It is in the context of giving seed to the barren one, just as it is used of Boaz in Ruth 4:14. In other words, the Lord would provide Seed for the widow (Jerusalem), and a King would be born into the Davidic line. This, of course, was Jesus, whom the Annas family had rejected as Messiah. Annas and his family had been persecuting the family (Messianic disciples) of Jesus intermittently for almost 40 years. Yet, even at this late date the Lord claimed, through the pen of Luke and in the miracles of Peter and Paul, that Jesus would save Jerusalem from Rome, if Theophilus and his family – the leaders of Israel in the first century – would repent. They didn’t and Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed.