Ananias seems to have been a leader among the disciples in Damascus. No information is given as to when he became a disciple. Perhaps he had heard Jesus during his years on earth (after all, Damascus was relatively close to Galilee, and Ananias could have been one of the disciples who had followed Jesus from there) or maybe he had been a visitor in Jerusalem at the Day of Pentecost and was converted during Peter’s sermon.
Wherever he was converted, he was not one of the disciples who had been forced to leave Jerusalem by the persecution led by Saul. Instead he had been a resident in Damascus for a sufficiently long period to gain the respect of the Jewish community there.
It is possible that he received this vision during a regular time of prayer or perhaps he was given it when he was in bed (he is told to rise in verse 11). In any case, he did not that day anticipate the task that he was about to be given, which was to bring assurance of salvation to one who shortly before had been a fierce enemy.
Ananias is an example of the vast number of unknown disciples who have performed crucial activities in the life of the church. As with many others who have engaged in such activities, Ananias may have assumed that this God-given task was perilous, but he soon discovered that his role was actually a privilege. He was instrumental in bringing Saul of Tarsus into the fellowship of the visible church in Damascus.
It is important to note that God always prepares the field in which his servants have to labour. The field on this occasion for Ananias was Saul of Tarsus and the Lord told him that Saul had also received supernatural information in a vision. Saul, in fact, was waiting for a man called Ananias to arrive. The field had been prepared, Ananias only had to walk in and fulfil his role.
This is a reminder that the Lord Jesus always has his man or men in place ready to work for him. Who in the church would have planned a strategy for dealing with the conversion of the persecutor, Saul? Whom would the apostles have designated for helping him? Perhaps they had their ideas, but it is unlikely that they had even thought of his possible conversion. The ones in Jerusalem did not know how to react to Saul. But Jesus already had his person ready for the role, living in Damascus until Saul came there.
There is another detail worth noting. Saul had been told this information before the Lord had spoken to Ananias. We can interpret the order of events as merely indicating that Jesus knows the future, so he knew that Ananias would go to Saul. I don’t think that is a biblical way of depicting divine foreknowledge. God does not know the future merely by looking ahead and noting what will occur; instead he knows what is going to happen because he has planned each detail in every situation. As our catechism tells us, he has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. So Jesus in heaven was working out all the details of God’s eternal plan concerning the conversion of Saul, which included the role that Ananias would perform.
Since God had planned this role for Ananias, it means that God had also prepared him for it. Obviously it was a surprise for Ananias when he received this divine instruction, but it was not a sudden impulse request by God. Instead he had been working in Ananias’ life to equip him for this role. The various experiences that he had gone through had been worked together by God in order to prepare him for this important mission. And while we regard his task as a most important one, it was not the climax of his life. Rather his participation in Saul’s life would equip Ananias for future tasks. We might remember him for this action in welcoming Saul into the church, but the believers in Damascus would have had a lot more to say about Ananias’ contribution afterwards.
This is how we are to regard ourselves at all times, but especially when a sudden burden is placed upon us. It is a wrong response to assume that we cannot do it or to suggest that someone else should do it. Such response indicates that we don’t believe God has prepared us for the role. It means that we don’t regard service as a privilege given to us by God.