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Calling of Barnabas and Saul
After having followed the actions of Peter in the first part of the book of Acts 1-12, Luke will tell from Acts 13 onwards mainly the actions of Paul. From this chapter we see how a small Jewish sect develops more and more into a global movement. We have already seen its preparations in the conversion of Saul (Acts 9), the conversion of the eunuch (Acts 8) and the conversion of Cornelius (Acts 10). Through the scattering of the believers, God has already begun this development.
In the previous part, Jerusalem was the center of – at that time mainly Jewish – Christendom. In Paul’s service this place will be taken over by Antioch as the center of Gentile Christendom. The connection with Jerusalem will be maintained. After some time, also Antioch will no longer be the center. Christendom has no geographical center.
In the beginning of Acts 13 Luke focuses our attention on Antioch as a place where there is a church. He also mentions that there are prophets and teachers there. There is no mention of any appointment by people. It is clear that there is also no one-man ministry. The Lord Jesus gave the prophets and teachers this task and placed them in His church (Ephesians 4:11).
It seems that the five brothers mentioned are both prophets and teachers. The five form a close team. Together they minister to the Lord under fasting. That is the atmosphere in which the Holy Spirit can speak and make His will clear. The Holy Spirit speaks to this whole company. He could have addressed Barnabas and Saul directly, but He does not. Although He sends out – and not the church – His sending is not separate from the church. After all, the service of those who are sent out is in the territory of the church. In their service they add to the church through the preaching of the gospel, while they build up the church through their teaching in the church.
They are not sent out by the church, but are dedicated to the Lord for their service. When they come back to Antioch later with their report, it is not to give an account, but to tell what the Lord has done among the nations through them (Acts 14:27). We do not have a Christ on earth sending His disciples. The sending out of Barnabas and Paul – here still Saul – takes place through the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit.
This also shows that the Holy Spirit is a Person. Undoubtedly the Holy Spirit will have used the mouth of one of the prophets to make His will clear. The sending out is from a Greek city and not from Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit is working apart from the apostles, independent as He always is. A glorified Christ in heaven is His starting point.
When they are called to their service, they have already worked for the Lord for several years. They are not newcomers. Saul’s calling took place in Acts 9:15 (cf. Galatians 1:15-Nehemiah :), about eight years ago, and now the assignment follows to fulfill that calling. There is a distinction between vocation and sending out. The time in between is the time of preparation.
The Holy Spirit was able to make His will known to them because they focused in their lives on the Lord Jesus and serving Him. This also included fasting. They voluntarily refrained from food in order to be open to the will of the Lord. Isaiah 58 shows that the inner attitude that belongs to fasting counts for God and not fasting itself (Isaiah 58:1-2 Kings :).
After the Holy Spirit has revealed His will to them, they fast again and ask in prayer for further guidance from the Lord. It becomes clear to them that they must lay hands on Barnabas and Saul and send them away. It means that they did not put anything in their way, although their departure was a great loss for the church. They are committed to their mission and remain involved.
The laying on of hands has nothing to do with human appointment, but is the sign of the fellowship they could have with them in this matter. In a real work of the Lord, the Lord calls the servant very personally, without any interference from the church. At the same time, the servant will gladly allow himself to be laid hands on in order to go into the service of the Lord with the support of the church. Laying hands means identification (Leviticus 1:4; Leviticus 3:2Leviticus 3:8; Leviticus 3:13Leviticus 4:4; Leviticus 4:15Leviticus 4:24; Leviticus 4:29Leviticus 4:33).
Beginning of the First Missionary Journey
This is where the first missionary journey begins, the account of which extends to Acts 14:26. After being called by the Holy Spirit – and so explicitly not by people (Galatians 1:1) – He also sends them out – and so explicitly not the church. Without reading that the Holy Spirit tells them where to go, they go on their way.
It seems that Cyprus is not an accidental choice. It is the island where Barnabas comes from (Acts 4:36). Perhaps he would like to start proclaiming the gospel precisely there. When they go ashore in Salamis, they first go to the synagogues of the Jews. There were several synagogues, which indicates that there was a large Jewish community on the island. Although they were sent out to the nations, in the pagan area they first look for Jews. Paul will do this later on. In his love for God’s earthly people it remains for him: first the Jew and then the Greek (Romans 1:16).
They proclaimed the Word of God in Salamis. John, that is Mark, is also present at this preaching. John Mark went with them to serve them. He wanted to dedicate his time and strength to the gospel, which he probably did by arranging all kinds of practical things for these two preachers.
Elymas and Sergius Paulus
We do not hear of any reaction to the proclamation of God’s Word in Salamis. A possible reason could be the influence of the activities of a demonic man, a Jew in particular. This man was especially active in Paphos. There Barnabas and Saul ran into him, after they went through the whole island. He listened to the name Bar-Jesus, which means ‘son of Jesus’. The Holy Spirit shows us in this man someone who in name is closely related to Jesus, but in fact stands at an enormous distance from the Lord Jesus. He does not proclaim the true Word of God, but is a falsifier of God’s Word.
Elymas is in the service of the proconsul Sergius Paulus who represents the Roman authority on Cyprus. The proconsul is ignorant of the true God, but he is also a wise man. This is evidenced by a sincere longing for something that can fill the emptiness he feels at the inanity of pagan ceremonies and their abominable immorality.
In the false prophet and magician, the Jew Elymas, we see the representative of enmity against Christendom. Again and again we will see how the Jews outside the land of Israel reject the Word and at the same time want to prevent it from being spoken to the nations (Acts 13:45). In Elymas we see that demonic powers and forces are involved. This is also how Paul denounces him.
This is the moment when Luke changes his name and calls Saul Paul from now on. In the midst of Judaism, Luke has always called him by his Hebrew name. Saul means ‘the requested’ or ‘coveted’. In that name we listen to the great plans his parents seem to have had with him. Maybe they gave him that name out of admiration for King Saul. King Saul literally stood head and shoulders above everyone else; from their son Saul they must have expected him to stand above everyone else in a religious sense. That is what happened (Galatians 1:14). But from now on he will be called Paul. Now that his service among nations has started, Luke will continue to call him by his pagan name.
This happens for the first time in Paul’s confrontation with the false prophet, in which he proves where his power lies, namely not in himself, but in the Holy Spirit. Instead of being the greatest of all, he has learned that true power can only be found in being the smallest of all (Luke 22:26-Daniel :). Paul means ‘the little one’.
Humility is a prerequisite for world evangelization. Then also someone is in the right mind to be able to act strongly against the opposition that the gospel experiences. Paul finds this power in the Holy Spirit with Whom he is filled. The fulfillment with the Holy Spirit points to an instantaneous fulfillment for that moment. At the moment of fulfillment, the Holy Spirit gives special power for what needs to be said.
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Paul speaks powerfully to this false prophet who reveals himself so clearly as an opponent of the gospel. With an indignant exclamation “you who” Paul addresses this man directly and then unmasks him completely as a man full of all deceit and deceit. Nothing good is present in this man. He is rightly a “son of the devil” and an “enemy of all righteousness. He has the devil as his father and expresses himself as one who abhors all righteousness. A person is only called the son of the devil if he shows persistent and deliberate opposition (John 8:44; 1 John 3:10). In his depravity, he also represents the right ways of the Lord (Hosea 14:9) in a twisted way. However, he will be found out (Proverbs 10:9).
With apostolic authority, Paul passes judgment on this son of the devil and makes him blind by letting the hand of the Lord be upon him. For the second time there is talk of “the hand of the Lord”, here in judgment. The first time is in Acts 11, there in blessing (Acts 11:21). Paul also sets a limit to blindness, for it will be “for a time”.
In this temporary blindness, Elymas is a picture of the unbelieving Jewish people on whom there is a covering in the present time. That veil will also be removed in time, especially from a faithful remnant. It is a temporary covering (Romans 11:25). The unbelieving Jews have been smitten with blindness because they envy the proclamation of the gospel to the nations (1 Thessalonians 2:16). As a result, for many centuries Judaism has been looking for people who can take them by the hand to guide them. They depend on the favor of the nations they seek each time.
Another consequence of the blindness of the Jews is that the gospel went to the Gentiles (Romans 11:11; Romans 11:15). We also see this in the history of Elymas. After he had been smitten with blindness, God opens the door of the heart of the pagan Sergius Paulus for faith. The proconsul was not so much impressed by what happened, but by the teaching of the Lord. Not the miracle, but the Word is the basis of conversion.
From Cyprus to Antioch in Pisidia
The fact that there is talk of “Paul and his companions” seems to indicate that there is a larger company than Paul and Barnabas. It is possible that people have come to faith together with the proconsul and some of them have joined Paul and Barnabas. The fact that there is ‘a company of Paul’ also means that from now on Paul takes the lead and Barnabas takes second place. Paul puts his stamp on the company, the company continues under his leadership and responsibility.
The company leaves the island of Cyprus. They boarded in Paphos and sailed to Pamphylia in southern Galatia. In Perga they go ashore. There Johannes Mark quits. He didn’t want to go any further with the two servants. They have to go on without him and his service. John is the picture of the unfaithful servant. It seems that he was not ready for this service. Barnabas and Paul did not notice that either. Without any remark on their part – at least we don’t read anything about that – they let John Mark go. They themselves go from Perga into the country.
On their journey they arrive in the province of Pisidia in a city that is also called Antioch. At that time there were several cities that had this name. Also here Paul goes first to the synagogue. They know the customs in the synagogue and take place there. They know that after reading the law there will be an opportunity to speak to the Jews. We see how the service in the synagogue goes on. There is great freedom in the service, more than in many churches today. After the reading of the law there is a free preaching. The presence of Paul and Barnabas is noticed, and they are asked to speak a word that will serve to encourage the people.
Period From the Fathers to Saul
Paul accepted the invitation to speak a word to the people with both hands. Surely he has a word of encouragement or exhortation, that will be that they cannot be justified by the law, but only by faith in the Lord Jesus. Without preparation, Paul can use the opportunity offered to him to preach God’s Word. He does so in the awareness of the audience he has before him. To get some rest he motions with his hand (cf. Acts 12:17). Then he starts his speech.
The Israelites are addressed as “men of Israel” and the proselytes as “you who fear God”. Paul begins by showing that Israel was God’s chosen people. He reminds his audience of their strangerhood – rather than their slavery – in Egypt and how God led them out of it. He presents both the choice of the fathers, who were idolaters, and the liberation from the bondage of Egypt, which they did not ask for, as acts of God’s sovereign grace.
Throughout his speech, he always points to those gracious acts of God with His people and not to their unfaithfulness and what they had earned on the basis of the law. This is evident when he presents to them the care of God which they have enjoyed in the wilderness for forty years. He is concerned with the side of Divine grace and not with the continual failure of the people in the wilderness. According to the law, they would have perished.
He points to that same grace, when he recalls how God destroyed seven nations before them in Canaan to be able to give them that land. They did not get the land because they deserved it (Deuteronomy 9:4). God did not just give that land either, but gave it to them as an inheritance, as a land that He intended especially for them and that they received from Him as their real possessions. The period in which God has been involved with His people in this way is about four hundred and fifty years. That is the sum of four hundred years in Egypt, forty years in the wilderness and ten years of conquest of the land.
When they arrived in the land, God gave them judges. These judges were always given by Him in His grace as a result of their calling to Him. That this calling to God was again the result of oppression by enemies that God had brought upon them because of their unfaithfulness, Paul passes by. The only judge who Paul mentions is the last one God gave, Samuel. Samuel is a special proof of God’s grace. God gave him without being asked by the people.
When Paul then presents Saul as the king for whom the people asked, he also does so without saying anything about God’s thoughts on this request of the people. He leaves it to his listeners to think about the fact that this king persecuted the man after God’s heart. Listening to a preaching from the Word requires the listeners to think about it and should not be just an absorption of words. As we listen, we must ask ourselves: What does it mean to me?
Here is another thing we do not read in the Old Testament and that is that Saul was king for forty years.
Period From David to the Lord Jesus
By noticing that God “removed” him, Paul points out, veiled, that Saul was not the king according to God’s heart. Paul works towards David. He wants to talk about him because through David he wants to point to the Lord Jesus, the Man after God’s heart. With the election of David, God begins a completely different relationship with His people than before through the judges and the first King, Saul. Paul has told all the above to show how God saved His people again and again on the basis of sovereign grace. At the same time he makes it clear to his audience that he is not a novice, but someone who brings the ‘old teaching’.
From David the transition to the Lord Jesus is quickly made. This brings Paul to his actual subject. After all, Israel expected the Messiah and that expectation was linked to the house of David. The Messiah is the Son of David, born out of the house of David. Paul tells his audience that that promised Son of David was brought by God according to the promise to Israel in the Person of Jesus. The promise was made to David in the first place, but also to the whole people. He was brought by God to His people as Savior. In that Name we hear the ‘salvation’.
Paul mentions the predecessor of the Messiah, John, because they also knew John here. He also points to John’s preaching of the baptism of repentance for the whole people of Israel. His hearing here in the Pisidian Antioch also belongs to that. By quoting the contents of John’s preaching, he already gives his hearers the hint of the need for conversion. Then he lets John speak. After completing his task, i.e. shortly before his imprisonment, John rejected every honor for himself and pointed out to Him Who is worthy of all the honor, of him and of everyone, for He surpasses everything and everyone.
What Happened to Christ
After having presented their history to his audience, in which God’s grace has been shown again and again, Paul asks again for the emphatic attention of both groups of which his audience consists. He comes with the highest proof of God’s grace by telling them now that the “message of this salvation” has been sent “to us”. By talking about “us” he includes himself.
The message of this salvation has come to them in a Person, the Lord Jesus. He has come, but those who live in Jerusalem and their religious leaders have not understood who He really is. They have not recognized Him as Messiah. That has led them to condemn Him. In doing so they have fulfilled what was said by the prophets, whose voices they hear every Sabbath in the synagogue when they hear them read from their writings. The prophets have prophesied about this rejection. The fact that they have fulfilled the prophets through the rejection of Christ does not diminish their guilt.
Paul says nothing about the life of the Lord Jesus but focuses on His sentence and death. Not only Israel is guilty of that death, but the nations are also guilty of it. Paul indicates the latter by mentioning Pilate as the person involved. God allowed them, the Jews, to accomplish everything they wanted about Him. They have accomplished what was written about Him, ignorant of it, yet fully responsible for it. The “they” who took Him from the cross and laid him in a tomb are Joseph and Nicodemus.
After Paul has described the work of people, he says what God has done with Him. God has raised Him up. That resurrection is not a pretense, but reality. The fact of His resurrection has been observed by His disciples. He Who appeared to them is the same with Whom they had crossed the land from Galilee to Jerusalem. They can still consult these witnesses because they are still approachable in Israel. Paul does not mention his own testimony that he also saw the Lord. He had not been a witness of the Lord on earth, but of Him in glory. In his speech it is about the One Who died, is the same One Who was raised up by God.
The Proclamation of the Promise
Paul can now proceed to proclaim the fulfillment of the promise with regard to “us”, which are the children of the fathers, i.e. the Israelites. The fulfillment of the promise happened through the raising up of Jesus by God. This raising up of the Lord Jesus is both through the Holy Spirit in Mary (Luke 1:35) and through God’s raising him up from the dead. For both aspects of the raising up Paul quotes Scripture.
First he refers to Psalm 2 (Psalms 2:7). From this quote it appears that the Lord Jesus is more than just the Son of David, because here it appears that through His birth He is also the Son of God. So this is not about raising up in the sense of the resurrection, but really as the origin of His life as a Man on earth.
After the quotation which indicates His conception, Paul proceeds directly to His resurrection from the dead. He presents it as the resurrection to an imperishable life. The Lord Jesus will never see decay. Paul proves this with a quote from Isaiah 55 (Isaiah 55:3) in connection with another quote from the book of Psalms (Psalms 16:10).
Every Jew who reads Isaiah 55:3 knows that it is about the great Son of David in whom God proves to His people the sure blessings of David. All the blessings that God has promised to David are fulfilled by the great Son of David. Because of this it is also clear that that Son could not stay in the tomb and therefore God did not let Him undergo decay, as Psalm 16 mentions (Psalms 16:10). God gives us His blessings in Him Who is the Blessed or Holy One.
To further underline his application of Psalm 16:10 to the Messiah, Paul points out that this word from this psalm cannot, of course, be applied to David himself. In his generation David fulfilled the will of God and then died and was buried. After that he underwent decay and that is precisely not the case with the Lord Jesus. Once again Paul confirms that He Who God raised up, did not see decay.
After establishing the great facts regarding all that God has done with the Man according to His heart, Paul can proclaim to his hearers, the blessings of David. The way is free to offer them to all who believe. The first of those blessings is the forgiveness of sins. It does not stop there. There is more than forgiveness, there is justification. The question that appears twice in the book of Job, “how would a man be right [or righteous] before God? (Job 9:2; Job 25:4) is answered here.
The law causes man to be preoccupied with himself; justification makes him see what God has done in Christ. It is impossible to be justified on the basis of the law. Every transgression of the law of Moses is an aggravation of the righteous judgment that is connected with the transgression of the law. Yet justification is not impossible. It is possible, but only by faith in the finished work of Christ.
A Warning at the End
The previous verse would have been a nice conclusion. But Paul has looked around and expects a reaction to his speech. He therefore concludes his speech with a serious exhortation from the Word for anyone who rejects the offer of grace. If they reject it, this word of the prophet Habakkuk will be fulfilled for them (Habakkuk 1:5). This verse announces the situation of the downfall of the state of Israel. This is how it will be with them. Whether this is so depends on whether or not ‘you, listeners’ accept the message.
The work of God in the days of Habakkuk was that God sent the Chaldeans to discipline His people, a work they did not want to believe. That God punished His people through an evil pagan nation was a wondrous work. Paul applies this word of the work of the judgment of God to the work of the gospel that God was now doing. If they rejected it, it would bring doom upon them in a way similar to the days of Habakkuk.
When Paul makes this serious appeal to the conscience of his listeners, we are in the year 45/46. We know that twenty-five years later the downfall will come, for they have rejected salvation.
Effect of the Preaching
We now receive the impact of Paul’s speech. The people are very impressed. There is no jealousy yet, there is only a desire to hear more. Many cannot wait until the next Sabbath and follow Paul and Barnabas, not to hear the persons, as often happens, but to hear more. From now on, with a few exceptions (Acts 14:14; Acts 15:12Acts 15:25), the order is no longer Barnabas and Paul, but Paul and Barnabas.
Paul and Barnabas gladly fulfill this desire by further teaching them about the “grace of God”. The exhortation is to continue in the grace of God that has been proclaimed to them in the gospel and also to become doers of the Word and to live out and by that grace. They will need it in the resistance they will encounter in their following of a rejected Christ, for as long as He has not yet returned to establish His reign on earth.
When the next Sabbath has come, we see that the Word spoken on the previous Sabbath has made a deep impression. It was not spoken to forgetful hearers. These two men, unknown to any man, had not brought their own word, but God’s Word. They must have used the week well for proclaiming the gospel. When they have another meeting on the next Sabbath, almost the whole city assembles. They want to hear the Word that comes from the glorified Lord and has Him as its subject. To Him the word of the gospel is related.
Driven Out by the Jews
When the Jews see the crowds, they become jealous. As long as the preaching took place in the synagogue for the select company of its visitors, they were still under the assumption that it was a message from God for them as Jews. However, now they see that many who never come to the synagogue also hear about the Lord Jesus. With their nationalistic pride and exclusivism they cannot cope with that.
Where grace is preached, it will always arouse the enmity of people who consider themselves important in their service to God. It is the jealousy of begrudging grace to the nations. That is why they begin to slander what they first greeted so enthusiastically. Those who do not accept grace for themselves will also begrudge it to others.
Instead of telling the crowds to come to the synagogue, Paul speaks to the Jews. They have been given priority in the preaching of grace, but grace puts everyone on an equal footing before God. If they don’t want it, if they don’t want eternal life, he and Barnabas will no longer address themselves to them, but to the Gentiles.
For the believing Jew this is already difficult to accept, for the unbelieving Jew it is reprehensible. It evokes all his hatred. However, they have forfeited the right to the blessing based on the law, because they did not meet the conditions. Now that they do not want grace either, they also forfeit grace. They have put themselves offside because of this. In this way, what used to be a small Jewish sect, partly due to the resistance of the Jews, is slowly moving in the direction of a worldwide movement.
The preaching to the Gentiles is not Paul’s invention. God has already thought of the Gentiles in the Old Testament to make them partakers of salvation (Isaiah 49:6). Isaiah 49 is about the Lord Jesus as the Servant of Yahweh. The words Paul quotes are meant in Isaiah as an encouragement to the Servant of Yahweh, after He expressed His disappointment that Israel rejected Him. This now also happens with Paul and Barnabas. They too are rejected by the unbelieving Jews. That is why Paul says in his quote “so the Lord has commanded us”, by which he means himself and Barnabas. Now that they, as the preachers of grace, have been rejected by the unbelieving Jews, they will go to the Gentiles, as the Servant of Yahweh was told.
When the Gentiles hear this, they rejoice. They glorify the Word of the Lord; they embrace it and fully appreciate it. That Word does its work in them. Many come to faith through it. Those who come to faith are those who are destined for eternal life by God. Here we find the side of predestination. God knows perfectly who will believe because He Himself has destined them for it. This also means that only those people will believe who God has destined for this purpose.
But predestination does not take away our responsibility to preach the gospel. The counterpart is found in the first verse of the following chapter. Paul, who knew like no other the truth of predestination, also preached the gospel. He also did not know who all would believe. God also begs not only the elect to be reconciled with Him, but all people (2 Corinthians 5:20). The Christian therefore believes that so many people come to repentance as God has predestined and that he must preach it in such a way that many come to repentance.
No matter how hard the enemy tries to prevent the spread of the Word, the course of the Word is unstoppable. The Word of the Lord in Antioch has an enormous effect all around. Strikingly often the name ‘Lord’ appears in this section (Acts 13:44; Acts 13:47-Ephesians :), of which the ‘Word of the Lord’ is mentioned three times (Acts 13:44; Acts 13:48Acts 13:49). It emphasizes that the Word of God for those to whom it is preached and by whom it is accepted is the Word of the Lord, the Commander, to Whom they must submit.
The Jews know how to incite the devout women of prominence and other distinguished people and to assume the role of persecutors. Important and distinguished people feel the gospel as a threat to their honor and prestige. They refuse to recognize any authority that puts an end to their distinction. If there is no desire for the gospel, such people can easily be turned into opponents. The Jews, with their insinuations, succeed in this.
The result is that Paul and Barnabas are driven out of that area. When they leave Antioch, by shaking off the dust of their feet against them, they make it clear that they have no part at all in the people who chase them away. They don’t even want to have anything to do with the dust of the city (cf. Matthew 10:15). Then they are on their way to their next goal, Iconium.
When Paul and Barnabas leave, they do not leave behind some disciples who panic, but disciples who are filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. Although the preachers are gone, the joy and the Holy Spirit remain. Joy and the Holy Spirit belong together. They are filled with both. God gives that where the hearts are focused on the Lord Jesus and the opposition is fierce.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Acts 13". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany