“Tabitha” (9:36) was a Hebrew name, the Greek Gentile translation of which was “Dorcas.” All names have meanings, and Tabitha means “beauty,” while Dorcas means “gazelle.” So both names mean kind of the same thing, for gazelles are beautiful animals.
But the meanings of names in the Bible often have spiritual significance. This woman was a type of the nation of Israel. You see, when the people of Israel did good works like they did under King Solomon, He made sure they were beautiful in the eyes of the other nations. But when they did bad works instead, He allowed the Babylonians to destroy their beautiful city and take them captive (Lam. 2:13-15).
But they were beautiful as long as they were doing good works, as we see symbolized by Dorcas, whose name means “beauty,” and who is said to have been “full of good works” (9:36). She lived in Joppa, another name for beauty, making it a symbol of Jerusalem. She was beautiful and lived in a beautiful city—just like the people of Israel when they were doing good works!
But the beauty of Israel died when they got so sinful God allowed Babylon to destroy Jerusalem and take them captive, and it died again when they crucified Christ and stoned Stephen in Acts 7, something we see symbolized when Dorcas died here in Acts 9:37. God wanted to restore a beautiful kingdom to them, like they had when they were doing good works under Solomon (Acts 1:6), but all hopes of that died when they stoned Stephen, as depicted with Dorcas’ death.
The “upper chamber” they laid her in was a type of heaven. That’s where all Israel’s hopes and dreams of the beautiful kingdom God wanted to give her went after they rejected it. And that’s where they are to this day (I Peter 1:3,4), as we see pictured when they laid Dorcas in an upper chamber. Their kingdom is vested there in Christ, as we see it vested in Christ on Palm Sunday (Lu. 19:38 cf. Mark 11:10). We see this again when the Lord told some unbelievers the kingdom was within them (Luke 17:21). He meant the kingdom they asked about (v. 20) was right in their midst vested in Him (cf. the words “within you” to Deut. 28:43,44).
When Dorcas died, her loved ones didn’t bury her, they sent for Peter to raise her from the dead (9:38-40). That’s a pic-ture of how Israel’s hopes of a kingdom were dead, but they weren’t dead and buried! All the nation needs is a resurrection—the kind we see pictured when Peter raised Dorcas!
When it says they brought Peter into that upper chamber (v. 39,40), that’s a picture of how the Lord went to heaven to get the kingdom and return (Lu. 19:12-15). That’s where He went after He died and rose again, but someday He’ll return with the kingdom to raise saved Jews to enter it. “Lydda” (v. 38) was the Greek form of the Hebrew city of “Lod,” which means nativity or generation. That’s a picture of the re-generation of resurrection that the Lord will give the Jews when He returns (Mt. 19:28)—but only Jews who did good works like Dorcas!
Remember, we’re saved by faith without works (Tit. 3:5), but Jews under the law were saved by faith plus works of righteousness (Ps. 15:1,2) like animal sacrifices (Deut. 33:19 cf. Ps. 4:5; 51:19). They also worked righteousness by obeying the sabbath, the feasts, and other parts of the law (Lu. 1:6). Then the Lord added another work they had to do to be saved, sell all they had and give to the poor (Lu. 18:18,22).
That’s called an “alms” (Lu. 12:33 cf. Acts 3:2,3), and Dorcas is said to have done “almsdeeds” (9:36). So she didn’t make coats and garments (v. 39) for herself, but for the poor to be saved, making her a type of Jews in the Tribulation (James 2:14-17). Job was a type of this (Job 31:19-22). He had to go through some tribulation, but was rewarded in the end, just as Jews will have to go through the Tribulation but will be rewarded in the end—if they did the good works of clothing the needy like Job and Dorcas did!
When it says Peter “presented” her to her family, that’s a picture of Jude 1:22-24, where Jews who had “compassion” on the needy and clothed them will be “presented” to the Lord and His host to enter the kingdom.
Video of this sermon is available on YouTube: What’s In A Name? – Acts 9:36-43