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‘Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers, Barnabas, and Symeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen the foster-brother of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.’
We know already that prophets had come from Jerusalem to Antioch (Acts 11:27). Whether they all returned there we do not know. One or other of these prophets described here may well have been a part of that group, and have remained here when the others returned. We note that Barnabas’ name is stated first, because he had come on the authority of the Apostles as their delegate and appointed overseer, and secondly because he was Antioch’s prime teacher (Acts 11:23-26), in conjunction with Saul. Then come Symeon Niger (a Roman name meaning ‘black’) and Lucius of Cyrene. They may well have been among the ‘men of Cyprus and Cyrene’ who had begun the preaching to the Gentiles (Acts 11:20). After them comes Manaen, who is described as a distinguished man, having been associated with the royal house in Palestine. He no doubt considered that the position of prophet in the church at Antioch was far superior to that of associate of Herod’s court. Unlike the Jews in chapter 12 he had put aside such honours for the sake of the new Messiah. Last of all, as probably the newest among them, comes Saul. The dividing ‘te’ - ‘te’ may suggest that the first three were the official prophets, and the last two official teachers at a slightly lower level (compare 1 Corinthians 12:29), although the prophets would also be teachers. It is noteworthy how few prophets there are in such a large church. Prophets were not numerous.
Barnabas was a Levite, and from Cyprus. He had quite possibly followed Jesus for at least part of the time. Symeon, called Niger (‘black’), was possibly black and may have come from Africa (but in an area where black people were common not all African’s were called Niger, why then was Simeon?). It is equally possible that Symeon was black-browed or had some equally startling feature which gave him his name. Then he could have been from anywhere, even Antioch. Lucius of Cyrene certainly came from Africa. Manaen was seemingly foster brother to Herod Antipas. The word signifies that he was brought up with him. Here is one in absolute contrast to Herod Agrippa. We can compare here how the wife of Herod’s steward had also followed Jesus (Luke 8:2). It is apparent that the Good News had spread throughout that ‘household’. Saul was of course a Roman citizen from Tarsus and a Pharisee. They were therefore a good mixture. It seems that none of the prophets or teachers were local Antiochenes, although in a cosmopolitan city that is not necessarily surprising.
As with all the churches at the time there is no single leadership. Even Barnabas is numbered along with the five, and not seen as primary, although a ‘leading light’. The same is true of the Jerusalem church which is also not seen as having a single leader. Peter and James are mentioned together along with ‘other Apostles’. Jesus, the Lord’s brother, was necessarily prominent by nature of his unique position, and would become even more so when the Apostles left Jerusalem, but he was not pre-eminent in authority, although he may well have become so in influence. Sole bishops or overseers were unknown in he early church.
The Expansion Of The Word In Cyprus and Asia Minor, With Satan’s Counterattack Being Defeated at an Assembly In Jerusalem, Which is Then Followed By Further Ministry (13:1-18:22).
Jerusalem having forfeited its Messiah and its right to evangelise the world, the torch now passes to Antioch. For in his presentation of the forward flow of ‘the word’ Luke now had to find the next great forwards movement and he found it at Syrian Antioch. From there at the instigation of the Holy Spirit (the Holy Spirit too has as it were moved to Antioch) Barnabas and Saul are to be sent out and will successfully and powerfully minister, first to Jews and then to Gentiles throughout Asia Minor, achieving great success, while confirming the dictum that ‘we must through much tribulation enter under the Kingly Rule of God’ (Acts 14:22). Having suffered for Christ’s sake, these Apostles will then finally report God’s great successes back to Antioch. It will then be followed after the Gathering at Jerusalem by a second round of missionary activity reaching into Europe.
The first section of Acts (chapters 1-12) had dealt with the going forward of the Good News from Jerusalem, resulting finally in Jerusalem having rejected its last chance and being replaced in the purposes of God. As we saw it followed a chiastic pattern (see introduction to chapter 1)..
This next section of Acts deals with the going forward of the Good News from Antioch and also follows a chiastic pattern covering the twofold ministry of Paul, with two missions from Antioch sandwiching the Gathering at Jerusalem of the Apostles and elders in order to decide the terms on which Gentiles can become Christians, thus emphasising the freedom of the Gentiles from the Law of Moses. It analyses as follows:
a Paul and Barnabas are sent forth from Antioch (Acts 12:25 to Acts 13:3).
b Ministry in Cyprus results in their being brought before the pro-consul Sergius Paulus who believes their word (Acts 13:4-13).
c Ministry in Pisidian Antioch results in a major speech to the Jews with its consequences, including a description of those who desire to hear him again (Acts 13:14-52).
d Successful ministry in Iconium results in the crowd being stirred up and their having to flee (Acts 14:1-6).
e A remarkable healing in Lystra results in false worship which is rejected and the crowds being stirred up by the Jews. Paul is stoned and flees the city (Acts 14:7-21).
f Ministry in Derbe is followed by a round trip confirming the churches and return to Antioch (Acts 14:21-28).
g The Gathering in Jerusalem of the Apostles and elders of Jerusalem and the Antiochene representatives resulting in acknowledgement that the Gentiles are not to be bound by the Law or required to be circumcised because God had established the everlasting house of David (Acts 13:15).
f Paul and Silas (and Barnabas and Mark) leave Antioch to go on a round trip confirming the churches (Acts 15:36 to Acts 16:5).
e A remarkable healing in Philippi results in true worship which is accepted (the Philippian jailer and his household) and in Paul’s stripes being washed by a Roman jailer. The authorities declare them innocent and they leave the city (Acts 16:6-40).
d Successful ministries in Thessalonica and Berea result in the crowds being stirred up and their having to flee (Acts 17:1-14).
c Ministry in Athens results in a major speech to the Gentiles with its consequences including a description of those who desire to hear him again (Acts 17:15-34).
b Ministry in Corinth results in their being brought before the pro-consul Gallio who dismisses the suggestion that their actions are illegal (Acts 18:1-17).
a Paul returns to Antioch (Acts 18:18-22).
We note here from ‘c’ and parallel the movement from Jew to Gentile in the proclamation of the word. Athens is no doubt partly chosen because although small, its reputation was worldwide.
‘And as they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” ’
To ‘minister to the Lord’ would involve both worship, prophesying and teaching the gathered people. Their fasting, something rarely mentioned in the New Testament (although regularly slipped in by copyists later), may simply have been because the day had been set apart for prayer and ministry. Not wishing this to be interrupted by the question of food they simply went without. Or it may have been because they were seeking God’s face about some particular problem and wished to concentrate on that without interruption. Or it could even have been a weekly or seasonal fast. We are not told which because the detail was unimportant. But the point of mentioning it is in order to bring out that they were in earnest in seeking the Lord’s face. For it is when men seek His face because they love Him that He then comes to them with greater blessing.
No wonder then that God gave them a revelation concerning Barnabas and Saul, although at the time probably none recognised the full significance of what they were doing. The fast may well have included the whole church, gathered in order to hear these prophets and teachers and to worship with them throughout the whole day. The command was that the whole church separate the two men out for the work to which He had called them.
Outwardly the command may have come as a surprise. These were two of their leading teachers, and the church was constantly growing and needed teachers. But we may assume that what the Lord was calling them too had been revealed to the church, so that having a missionary heart (they too were a missionary church) they therefore responded without question. Humanly speaking the later success of Barnabas and Saul would not result only because these two were obedient, but because the whole church was obedient. As a result all had a share in their ministry.
‘Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away (literally ‘released them’).’
The laying on of hands confirms that it was well known what that work was to be, for after further fasting and praying the church identified themselves with them by the laying on of hands, indicating that they were sending them as their representatives, acting on behalf of the whole church. Then they ‘released them’. It was a sacrifice that they were happy to make for God, but it was not easy. The idea includes that they identified themselves with them in their going, and no doubt provided them with all that they would need for the first part of their journey.
‘The laying on of hands’ is a process of identification. There is nowhere any suggestion that gifts will necessarily accompany it, although where it take place at the Lord’s command He will no doubt gift as necessary. In the Old Testament offerers laid their hands on their sacrifices in order to identify themselves with them. Timothy received his gift ‘through prophecy, by the laying on of hands’ (1 Timothy 4:14). The church leaders identified themselves with him because of what God had promised in prophecy, and as had been prophesied the gift was given to him. But the gift was not simply the result of the laying on of hands. Identification is paramount in the idea.
Barnabas and Saul Sail for Cyprus And Minister There (13:4-12).
‘So they, being sent forth by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus.’
What was most important was that it was essentially the Holy Spirit Who was sending them forth. He had set them apart and now He was sending them. Note the great emphasis on the Spirit’s actions in sending them. This was a continuation of the work of Pentecost. They carried with them Apostolic authority for Barnabas was the Apostles’ appointed representative to Antioch, as well as walking in obedience to the Spirit. But Saul received his authority, partly because he was Barnabas’ companion, and partly because he was chosen by the Spirit. Later he would declare that his Apostleship was not of men or by men, for he was here very conscious that the Holy Spirit was sending him, just as he had been very conscious that the Holy Spirit had revealed to him his doctrinal understanding from the Scriptures (Galatians 1:16 to Galatians 2:2).
We do not know whether they preached in the port of Seleucia, (16 miles west of Antioch), but their destination was Cyprus, an important island on the main shipping routes. This had been partly evangelised by those described in Acts 11:19-20, and it may have been their description of the interest shown even by God-fearers that was one cause of this journey. Furthermore, they may, conscious of how inadequate they had been in teaching the converts, have begged Barnabas and Saul to go there and confirm them in their faith and give them deeper understanding.
‘And when they were at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews, and they had also John as their attendant’.
Arriving at Salamis, on the east coast, which was the island’s most important city (although Paphos was the capital), they went to the synagogues and proclaimed the word of God. This was to be their constant practise. To the Jew first. Their fellow-Jews must be given every opportunity to respond to their Messiah, for among them were many who had been prepared for His coming by God. It would be in the same synagogues that the earlier preachers had enjoyed their successes (Acts 11:19-20).
Along with them in the synagogues would be God-fearers, those who had also demonstrated their desire for the One God and for His moral ways. Both Jews and God-fearers included among them those who were good ground awaiting the seed. They were an opportunity not to be squandered.
‘They had also John as their attendant.’ John Mark (Acts 12:25) had gone along with them to act as their assistant in many ways, and probably as a trainee.
‘And when they had gone through the whole island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer (magos), a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Bar-jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of understanding.’
They travelled from town to town throughout Cyprus, proclaiming the Good News, until at last they came to Paphos. There they discovered a man named Bar-Jesus (‘Son of Jesus’), presumably because his father’s name was Jesus (Hebrew: Joshua), a common Hebraic Greek name. He was a magos and a false prophet, and acted as religious adviser to the pro-consul Sergius Paulus.
‘Magos’ could simply indicate a man of wisdom who was a seeker after truth (like the magi who sought the infant Jesus), but it could also include charlatans, consulters of the occult, and those who claimed supernatural powers. Bar-jesus appears to have been one of these latter. There is the possibility that he had taken the name because of the fame of Jesus, seeking to indicate his connection with the famous wonder-worker. This would explain Saul’s vehement, ‘(not son of Jesus but) son of the Devil.’
Bar-jesus was a Jew, but not an orthodox one, for he was mixed up in the occult and practised ‘wonder-working’. His being a ‘false prophet’ presumably refers to his deviation from the Mosaic law (compare Deuteronomy 13:1-5). While a Jew he was not true to the teaching of Moses. In many ways he was like Simon the sorcerer before his conversion (Acts 8:9), except that Bar-jesus compounded it by being of Jewish extraction. Compare also Acts 19:13-14. Renegade Jews appear to have been regularly connected with the occult, possibly because they were seen by Gentiles as belonging to a mysterious and ancient religion, and it was financially profitable.
The parallel with Simon may well be deliberate. Once Jewish territory is left behind such men will regularly be met with, and Luke wants us to know that Christ can easily cope with them, and even turn them to His will.
Bar-jesus had used his background and ‘gifts’ in order to worm his way into the confidence of the pro-consul, the governor of Cyprus. Cyprus was a senatorial province and would therefore have a pro-consul. The name of a pro-consul named Paulus have been discovered on a North Cypriot inscription. It was (and is) not unusual for prominent men to seek such aid. It provided somewhere to turn in a crisis.
‘A man of understanding.’ In other words, one ready and willing to listen to those who claimed to bring the truth.
‘The same called to him Barnabas and Saul, and sought to hear the word of God.’
The pro-consul called for Barnabas and Saul to declare to him the word of God. It may have been because he was a seeker of truth, or it may have been in order to learn what they were teaching because of reports of trouble that had reached him.
‘But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn aside the proconsul from the faith.’
However, Bar-jesus, or Elymas as he could be called, withstood them and sought to bring up opposition against what they were saying. he wanted to convince Paulus that they were a bad lot. We must presume from Saul’s reaction that his methods were underhand and deceitful. His sole aim appears to have been in order to prevent the pro-consul from listening. He was not simply presenting an opposing viewpoint. ‘Elymas’ possibly comes from a Semitic root meaning ‘sage’ or ‘wise man’ (compare Arabic ‘alim’ - ‘wise’). It was probably therefore his ‘professional name’. Luke probably does not mean that Elymas is an interpretation of Bar-jesus but of ‘sorcerer’ (wise man).
‘But Saul, who is also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fastened his eyes on him, and said, “O full of all guile and all villainy, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?” ’
Saul, who was already permanently filled with the Holy Spirit (see comments on Acts 9:17) now received a further temporary though powerful filling for the purpose of his curse. It was thus the Holy Spirit who caused him to say, “O full of all guile and all villainy, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness.” This was not the way in which Saul usually treated genuine opponents. Through the Holy Spirit he recognised the deliberate deceit and guile, and even worse, that Elymas was using. Furthermore his description of Elymas as ‘you son of the Devil’ stresses the evil power that he saw at work in him. Saul saw in what he was saying and doing, not a fair argument but a use of devilish powers to combat the truth. Here was evidence of Satan’s working so as to insidiously turn the honest pro-consul against them and possibly even to keep him from Christ. This is further confirmed by his description of Elymas as an ‘enemy of all righteousness’.
‘You son of the Devil.’ Luke wants us to see from the commencement of this journey among Gentiles that any powers they could rely on were as nothing before the Lord. The Devil may oppose, but God would be triumphant.
He then accused him of ‘perverting the right ways of the Lord’. Saul was very conscious that humanly speaking a man’s soul might be at stake, or even their own right to be able to speak on the island. And this evil man, possessed by Satan, was using all foul means that he could to prevent either the one or the other. It is a clear indication of his opinion of the man’s deliberate deceitfulness.
‘Saul, who is also called Paul.’ Saul was his Hebrew name, Paul his Greek name. He would also have had a Roman name, but we do not know what it was. Now that his ministry is to be mainly to Greek speakers Luke will use his Greek name.
“And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is on you, and you will be blind, not seeing the sun for a season.” And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness, and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand.’
‘The hand of the Lord is on you.’ This is a typical Old Testament phrase (compare Joshua 4:24; 1 Samuel 12:15; Psalms 75:8) which would be meaningful to someone who claimed connection with Old Testament prophets (he was a false prophet), and would be a reminder not to make such claims before God. As a self-proclaimed prophet he himself should have been able to call for ‘the hand of the Lord’ to act. The fact that His hand was against him should have given him pause to think.
The temporary blindness put on him by God (as He had previously put it on Saul) was symbolic of his spiritual blindness. If we knew all the circumstances we might more fully understand why it was bestowed on him. He may well have challenged Saul and threatened him with his sorcery, or himself have aimed a curse, never dreaming that it would be returned. So the blindness may well have been connected with things that he had said and spells that he had attempted to use. Now his vulnerability was revealed to all by his being led about by the hand. He who had claimed to lead others, now had to be led.
‘Then the proconsul, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord.’
Amazed at what he saw the Lord could do, as he might well have been, the pro-consul believed. In lieu of Luke’s usual usage this must signify that Luke sees him as becoming a Christian. He would no doubt have had good reason for believing it as a result of what happened in the future. Luke wrote many years afterwards and would have known whether his faith survived. There is some later evidence that his daughter and other relatives were possibly Christians. (It should be noted that Luke does not tend to overstate the response of people. Compare how he quite openly admits that Felix only sends to hear Paul because he hopes to obtain a bribe from him (Acts 24:26)).
It will be seen here that while the Jew, Bar-jesus, rejects Paul’s message, the Gentile, Sergius Paulus, receives it gladly. This is to be the pattern for the future. It will also be noted by glancing at the analysis at the beginning of this chapter that this appearance before the pro-consul parallels Paul’s later appearance before the pro-consul Gallio in Achaia (Acts 18:12-17), the twofold point being established in each case being, firstly that, like the Apostles (Matthew 10:18; Mark 13:9; Luke 21:12), Paul testifies before rulers (Acts 9:15), and secondly that the authorities of Rome did not condemn Paul for his teaching.
‘Now Paul and his company set sail from Paphos, and came to Perga in Pamphylia, and John departed from them and returned to Jerusalem.’
As explained above, once they had crossed the sea and arrived at Pamphylia, John Mark left the party at Perga (of Pamphylia) and returned to Jerusalem. In some ways for a young man closely related to the leader of the expedition he had been put in an impossible position when the leadership changed. No one will deny Paul’s godliness, but he was both forthright and a genius, and such men need a Barnabas to understand and cope with them until they have attained such status that their full worth is recognised on its own. Mark may have resented Paul. Also involved might have been dissatisfaction with the future plans to go to Pisidian Antioch, which he may have felt would have kept them away too long, and it is even possible that he was unhappy with Paul’s direct approach to Gentiles who were not linked with Judaism. Things were still a little unsettled in that regard. But whatever it was he felt it better to leave.
Paul was not intending to remain in Perga and Pamphylia. We have suggested a possible reason above. But there may have been other reasons. Plans would be formulating in Paul’s head, probably in advance of any that Barnabas had considered, and he may well have decided that they must go straight for the leading city in the province of South Galatia. Leading cities meant large numbers and wide influence, and large numbers and wide influence were what he wanted to effect. Pisidian Antioch was a Roman colony and would have been a good place to plant a strong church, for the Via Sebaste, the Roman road that ran from Ephesus to the Euphrates River, passed through it.
This overall control by Paul was possibly another thing that the young Mark did not like. He too had a quality of mind which had to be nurtured, something Barnabas was excellent at while Paul at this stage may not have been. Left to Paul he well might have simply ended up a frustrated man instead of a recorder of the life of Jesus.
Paul And His Company Preach in Pisidian Antioch. (13:13-52).
Paul ‘and his company’ (thus there were at least one or two others besides Mark) left Paphos and sailed across to Perga in Pamphylia. It will be noted that an interesting change has taken place. Paul is now depicted as being in overall charge, and from now on it will be ‘Paul and Barnabas’. This may have been because once they had left Cyprus, and Barnabas’ familiar territory, it was agreed that as they were now in territory that Paul was more familiar with he was the best one to lead the party (Perga was on the same coastline some considerable distance west of Tarsus). Or it may simply have been at Barnabas’ instigation because he felt that Paul’s leadership would add to the effectiveness of the mission, or by general consensus. It will have been noted that Paul has previously been chief spokesman. Barnabas was one of those treasures among men who had no thought for his own importance and was quite ready to submit to his former assistant’s guidance and leadership. ‘It takes more grace than I can tell, to play the second fiddle well,’ but Barnabas was well up to it, and played the second fiddle beautifully, until again required to become first fiddle, when he did that beautifully as well (Acts 15:39).
It may also be this that unsettled Mark. He was not yet up to his cousin’s humility. Geniuses like Paul are hard to cope with. They must either be given rein, or they are unable to operate. Barnabas recognised this and encouraged him until he was ready to take over, with the result that a star was born. Mark, still immature, possibly did not have the same grace, and it may be that hurt and angry for his cousin’s sake he refused to go on with them. He had come along because he trusted and leaned on Barnabas and wanted to serve his expedition, and now (from his viewpoint) Barnabas had been ousted. He may have felt that he could not cope with Paul, (especially a sick Paul), and did not want to.
Or it may be that he thought it foolish to seek to cross the Taurus mountains when Paul was so ill (see below), or that he saw the journey becoming a much more extensive one than he had planned for, and he thus wanted to return home while it would not be too difficult to do so. Cyprus and Pamphylia were one thing. They were within easy sail of Palestine. But going on to the Taurus mountains and Pisidian Antioch quite another. Once there it would be a long way back.
So possibly he did not like the travel plans that Paul laid before them. These involved crossing the Taurus range of mountains by one of the hardest and most difficult roads in Asia Minor, a road which as well as being tough, was also notorious for its robbers and brigands, and finishing up in the large provincial city of Pisidian Antioch. Whatever the way of it Mark left the party and returned to Jerusalem (later he would have learned to appreciate Paul, and Paul to appreciate that perhaps some of the fault lay in himself).
There are three exceptions to this new alteration to the order of the names of Paul and Barnabas. They are in Acts 14:14; Acts 15:12; and Acts 15:25. The first arose because Barnabas, probably as the older man, had been called Jupiter, and was therefore being seen as the leader. The other two examples were at the Jerusalem assembly where the well known and highly esteemed Barnabas was naturally given the position that he held in their eyes as their directly appointed and senior representative. There is much to be said for the suggestion that few men could have done what Barnabas did in making the most of the genius of Paul, a genius which he recognised from the start, knowing when to accept the lead himself, when to exercise his esteemed position, and when to make it subsidiary to the wishes of Paul. Paul appreciated it too. Humanly speaking, without Barnabas he might still have been a provincial preacher.
It would appear that at this time Paul became very ill. It may well have been with lowland malaria. In Galatians 4:13 he says, "You know that it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first". So when he came to Pisidian Antioch in Galatia he was already a sick man. As we know Paul had a ‘thorn’ or ‘stake’ in the flesh which in spite of much prayer remained with him (2 Corinthians 12:7-8). Many suggestions have been made as to what that ‘thorn’ or ‘stake’ was. Early tradition suggested that Paul suffered from blinding headaches, and that might suggest that he was the victim of the virulent recurring malaria fever which haunted the low coastal strip of Asia Minor. One traveller informs us that the headache characteristic of this malaria was like a red-hot bar thrust through the forehead. This malaria may well have attacked Paul in the low-lying and enervating Pamphylia resulting in him recognising the need to seek the plateau country in order to shake it off (having lived for many years on a similar coastline he may have seen much of the illness).
Thus they left the low lying Pamphylia and made for Pisidian Antioch which stood on a lake dotted plateau 3,600 feet above sea-level and was a hundered miles away. To reach it Paul and Barnabas would have to cross the Taurus range of mountains by one of the hardest roads in Asia Minor, a road which was also notorious for bandits and thieves.
‘But they, passing through from Perga, came to Antioch of Pisidia, and they went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down.’
So the party, minus Mark, did not remain in Perga but moved on the hundred miles to Pisidian Antioch. Pisidian Antioch was actually in Phrygia, but was generally known as Pisidian Antioch because it was on the borders of Pisidia. No hint is given of the difficult and dangerous road travelled, and if Paul was suffering from malaria it must have made it ten times harder. The grit that enabled him to endure it was part of the same temperament that had possibly put off John Mark.
Once they had arrived they waited for the Sabbath day (the plural is simply intensive) and then made their way to the synagogue. This became Paul’s standard strategy, Athens being the exception that proved the rule. In the synagogues could always be found men versed in the Scriptures and hopefully ready to receive God’s message. But should they prove intractable and reject God’s message, he then had no compunction against going elsewhere and preaching to Gentiles outside the synagogues. (Had they preached to the Greeks first they would have found no welcome in the synagogues).
The synagogue service would commence with the recitation of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5), followed by synagogue prayers, which might include ‘the eighteen benedictions’, and a blessing. There would also be a reading from the Law, which followed a pattern covering the whole Law in three years, followed by a reading from the prophets, often selected by the visiting speaker (although not in this case), and a message could then be delivered by someone invited to speak by the synagogue ruler(s) (compare Luke 4:16).
‘And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, “Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.” ’
Paul may well have dressed in order to reveal that he was a Pharisee, but whatever way it was, as distinguished visitors they were approached with an invitation to give a word of exhortation. Paul would need no second invitation. To the casual observer his speech might appear similar to Stephen’s, for he follows what appears to be the same pattern of outlining a history of Israel (a familiar pattern which was a guaranteed way of being listened to), but his whole emphasis was in fact different. Stephen’s emphasis had been on God’s activity outside the land, the rejection by Israel of God’s deliverers who had in the end proved indispensable second time around, and the people’s failure once they were in the land. He had stressed that the people had lived so long outside the land because God did not see presence in the land as important, and that once in the land they had simply finally deserted God. Paul, however, stresses how God gave them possession of the land and how leaders and kings were raised up who were satisfactory to them, and who led up to David the most acceptable of all. This then leads on to his introduction to the Messiah. His concern is to establish that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a solid part of God’s purposes as revealed in the old Testament.
In contrast with Stephen his whole speech is positive and friendly (he is not under hostile questioning) and leads up to his being able to present the truths about the death and resurrection of Jesus in an equally friendly manner, to a friendly audience. This last was an essential part of the new message and is therefore in some ways similar to Peter, although Paul diverts the blame from his hearers. The resurrection is then evidenced by reference to witnesses and to the Old Testament Scriptures, and Paul closes with an appeal to respond in faith and receive forgiveness of sins and ‘acceptance’ as those who are put in a position of being accounted righteous in God’s sight (justified). This latter expresses the Good News in a typically Pauline way. It demonstrates that he has already formulated the seeds of his doctrine of justification by faith. The message then closes off with a Scriptural warning against the danger of not paying heed to his words.
There is every indication that we do have here the direct words of Paul, but it is doubtful whether we have here the whole of his sermon, for it is from that point of view too short. We need not doubt that many parts were expanded on.
‘And Paul stood up, and beckoning with the hand said, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen.” ’
Often the address would be given seated, especially if it was an exposition of the passage read. But Paul’s rising would not be seen as unusual, and regularly occurred elsewhere. It would be an indication of the emphasis that he wanted to put on his message, something that he also confirmed with a gesture of his hand, and his strong plea to them to take notice (which he will also repeat at the end). It possibly also indicated that it was not just to be an exposition of the reading.
‘Men of Israel, and you who fear God.’ Both Jews, and Gentile God-fearers, were present and he was equally addressing both.
“The God of this people Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they sojourned in the land of Egypt, and with a high arm he led them forth out of it. And for about the time of forty years he suffered their manners (or ‘bore them as a nursing-father’) in the wilderness. And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land for an inheritance, for about four hundred and fifty years.”
While citing the same basic history and the same connection with Abraham (for that was their history) as Stephen had, Paul’s approach is almost exactly the opposite, although it does lead up to the same final message. This is because he stresses the positive aspects of their history as regards God’s blessing towards Israel, while hardly referring at all to their own failure. He stresses:
1) That God is the One God. He is the God of His people Israel. They must therefore look to Him and find out His will.
2) That He had chosen their fathers, His actions towards them having always been the outcome of His goodness, and totally undeserved.
3) That He had made the people great (exalted, prosperous) during their stay in Egypt. Their time there had not been unblessed and wasted, for God had been with them there, and had multiplied them, and given them status and much cattle.
4) That He had led them out of Egypt with a high and powerful arm, so that their deliverance had been solely due to His sovereign actions and power.
5) That He had borne them through the wilderness for ‘forty years’, putting up with their poor behaviour (or ‘had borne them like a nursing-father’), in the wilderness, an example of His enduring and longstanding ‘forty year’ goodness. He had delivered them there and watched over them, and they had been responsive to His care. Thus His mercy and compassion had continued towards them even when they had failed Him.
6) That He had then destroyed ‘seven nations’ in the land of Canaan, (a totality of nations), and had given them their land for an inheritance (see Deuteronomy 7:1). ‘Seven nations’ expresses a completeness of nations in terms of divine action. God had acted powerfully on their behalf against a host of nations in order to freely give them their inheritance.
And all this over a period of four hundred and fifty years.
However we relate the ‘four hundred and fifty years’ to the above it is to be noted that this too was emphasising His longstanding goodness, and the preciseness and faithfulness of His working over a long and continuing period.
Note the emphasis on His sovereignty, His dependability, His continual lovingkindness, His powerful activity on their behalf, His watch and care over them, His ability to provide what they longed for and what He had promised, and His continuing and unceasing activity over so long a period. The Jews therefore had good reason to be grateful to Him. In view of this they should now recognise that God still desires to work in this way towards His people, if only they will hear and be responsive.
Furthermore for the Gentiles present he is emphasising the ancient and solid foundation on which his message is built. It is the message of the One unique God. It is the message of the ancient Scriptures. It is the message of One Who is compassionate and merciful and consistent, all that their gods were not. He wants them to recognise that what he is talking about has not been done in a corner. Rather it is a final fulfilment of what God has been working towards through the set ages. God has been at work, and he knows that they know it, for that is why they are there in the synagogue. Let them therefore now be awake to the fact that this same God is again once more active and now has something even more wonderful to offer them.
‘He suffered their manners (or ‘bore them as a nursing-father’) in the wilderness.’ The translation depends on whether we read etropophoresen (‘endured their behaviour’ with Aleph, B, D) or etrophophoresen (‘bore them in arms’ with A, C*, E, p74). Deuteronomy 1:31 LXX may be seen as supporting the latter, which means ‘bore in His arms as a nursing-father’. Yet in the end both are similar for a nursing father not only feeds his young children but also has to bear their tantrums.
(The description mirrors God’s constant graciousness to His own through the ages. He reveals the same graciousness to us. In His covenant love He chooses us, makes us strong in Christ, leads us with a strong arm, feeds us, puts up with our bad behaviour as long as it is repented of, continually delivers us, and guarantees us an inheritance. It is why in all ages men should worship Him).
‘For about four hundred and fifty years.’ The question arises as to whether this is a kind of summary note, tacked on at the end of what he has initially said, signifying the time over which all this had happened (the stay in Egypt, the period in the wilderness and the period of initial conquest), or whether it is to be seen as looking forward to a later period in which they were ruled over by judges and others. The text is not fully clear. But whichever way it was ‘four hundred and fifty years’ in the end means ‘a good long time’, and stresses the length of time over which God had acted. His purpose was in order to bring out for how long God had blessed them and how long He had spent in the carrying out of His purposes without failing, his aim being to bring out God’s longstanding faithfulness and continuing reliability and generosity.
Paul’s Message (13:17-41).
Paul’s message divides into three parts.
· In the first he declares the goodness and faithfulness of the One God, Who over long centuries, commencing with Abraham (‘chose our fathers’), has acted on behalf of His chosen people, making them great in the land of Egypt, and then delivering them with a mighty arm, watching over them like a nursing father in the wilderness and defeating powerful nations in order to give them their inheritance. Thus he is affirming the truth of the ancient records which they have received from the beginning, linking Abraham whom God first called, via His redemption of His people, and watch over them in the wilderness, to their final reception of the inheritance in the land (and later to David and the Messiah). All, he declares, came from the One God Who had revealed His mercy and compassion towards them (Acts 13:17-19).
· In the second he points out how God continually supplied the leadership and guidance that they needed, providing greater and greater rulers under God, reaching their epitome in David, but all finally leading up to great David’s greater Son, Whom men hung on a tree, but Whom God raised again. He then demonstrates this to have been witnessed both by men and by the evidence of Scripture (Acts 13:20-37)
· And in the third he makes his appeal, calling them to respond and receive forgiveness and ‘justification’ (a being accounted as righteous) so that they may be freed from all their guilt and sin. For this is God’s great work (Acts 13:38-41).
Paul’s Message - Part 1. The Goodness and Sovereignty of the One God In Action As the Basis for What He Has Done (Acts 13:17-19).
“And after these things he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. And afterward they asked for a king, and God gave to them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for the space of forty years. And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, to whom also he bore witness and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after my heart, who shall do all my will.’ ”
Having laid the foundation in God’s oneness of purpose, goodness, compassion and longstanding generosity, Paul now moves on to the continuation of it in His provision for them of judges and saviours. He had never failed them. He had given them just and benevolent war leaders and rulers (‘judges’), leading up to the great prophet Samuel. Then when they had asked for a king He had given them the mighty Saul who had been over them for forty years (another indication of His longstanding goodness). And when He had had to remove him (a reminder that not all had been sweet and light) He had ‘raised up David’ to be their king, to whom He had borne witness that He had found a man after His own heart, who would do all His will. Thus as all present would know David was the climax, the ultimate, of these earthly rulers and kings, yet, as they also knew, there was a greater to come. He pointed ahead to a greater David Who was to be expected, another to Whom God would bear witness, another Who would be after God’s own heart and would do all His will. His purpose in the end was provide for them an everlasting King (2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-11; Isaiah 32:1-3; Isaiah 55:3-5; Ezekiel 37:24-28; Zechariah 9:9).
‘For the space of forty years.’ This period is not mentioned with respect to Saul in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, but it is found in Josephus and was therefore clearly a part of the Jewish tradition with respect to him. We must remember that ‘forty years, was to them a round number indicating a fairly lengthy period, a mature period, a satisfactorily complete period. (The patriarchs had tended to marry at ‘forty’, that is, at maturity - Genesis 25:20; Genesis 26:34). In Judges it was the regular period of ‘freedom’ (‘the land had rest forty years’ - Judges 3:11; Judges 5:31; Judges 8:28, contrast Acts 13:1). In seeming contrast the Hebrew text of the Old testament says of Saul that he reigned for ‘two years’. But that also was an example of the ancient use of numbers and is probably actually to be seen as agreeing with the significance of the ‘forty years’ here, indicating a reign which went beyond youth into middle age. ‘Three years’ at that stage would have indicated that he reigned into old age.
Paul’s Message - Part 2. Through A Series of Rulers God Has Raised Up Great David’s Greater Son Who Died and Was Raised Again (13:20-37).
In this section of his speech the emphasis is on God’ provision of deliverers, leading up eventually to his ideal king, who is the pattern of the One Who has now come. As in the first section in the midst of the progress there is a quiet hint of the people’s failure. They asked for a king, He gave them one. But when he finally proved unsuitable He removed him.
“Of this man’s seed has God according to promise brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus, when John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was fulfilling his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. But behold, there comes one after me the shoes of whose feet I am not worthy to unloose.”
And of the seed of this paragon among kings has arisen the One Whom Paul is here to announce. For of the seed of David, according to God’s promise to Israel (Isaiah 11:1-4), God has brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus. And as God had borne witness to David (Acts 13:22), so now He has borne witness to Him too, for He sent before Him John the Baptiser proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins who had declared concerning Him that he, John, was not worthy even to unloose His sandals (Luke 3:16). And when men had magnified John he had repudiated such magnification saying, ‘who am I? I am not the One.’ And had pointed forward to Jesus as the One to be magnified (John 1:19-27).
This detailed mention of John is suggestive. There had been no need to combat the belief in John as ‘the prophet’ while in Jerusalem and Judaea, for there they had all witnessed what had followed. John was history. But it was different here, out in the wider world, where news filtered through more slowly. Here in ‘the Dispersion’ were many who had been visitors to Jerusalem in past years whose last memory of it was of John’s ministry. They had been disturbed by it and had responded to it. Many still lived by it (Acts 18:24-28). They needed to be made aware that the greater than John had come, the One to Whom he had pointed. This authenticates the words of this speech as spoken to people in the Gentile world who would still have remembered and have honoured John without being aware of Jesus (a touch not likely from an inventor). We can compare how John’s witness is still seen as having produced powerful speakers going around proclaiming his message (Acts 18:24-28; Acts 19:1-6).
There would be many present who had flocked to hear John when they had gone up to the feasts, for he had preached over a number of years, and they would remember what had been said, and still look back to him with reverence. Thus when Paul spoke of him it would quicken their hearts. (Some few would, of course, actually remember having heard Jesus. But people from these areas would not go up to the feasts every year so that those who had heard Jesus would not be as many as had heard only John).
“Brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us is the word of this salvation sent forth.”
Having reached the heart of his message in the proclamation of the Saviour Jesus, Who is the final result of God’s promises to Abraham, he now points out that this message is precisely for them. For they are the children of the stock of Abraham. And it is for those whose ‘fear of God’ has been laid open before all because they look to the God of Abraham. It is to such as them, along with he and his companions, that this word of salvation has been sent forth.
But he must now go on to a fuller explanation concerning Jesus, for His death had not occurred in secret. Many would be fully aware of it.
“For they who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. And though they found no cause of death in him, yet they asked of Pilate that he should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all things that were written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a tomb.”
What had happened to Him had happened because of ‘those who dwell in Jerusalem’. (What a contrast there is here with Stephen’s sermon. But of course Stephen had been speaking to those who dwelt in Jerusalem. Here Paul wants his listeners to know that he does not blame them).
It was those who dwell in Jerusalem, along with their rulers, who did not recognise Him or hear the voices of the prophets speaking through the Scriptures, which are read every Sabbath day. Thus they fulfilled them in condemning Him. Even though they found no cause of death in Him they asked Pilate that He should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all the Scriptures concerning Him by crucifying Him, and nailing Him to a tree, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb. Compare 1 Corinthians 15:3, ‘that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and was buried, and that on the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures’. This is pure Pauline. Note Paul’s great stress on the Scriptural backing to what had happened. Paul may well at this point have cited Psalms 22:6-18; Isaiah 50:4-9; Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12; Zechariah 12:10 to Zechariah 13:1; Zechariah 13:7; Deuteronomy 21:22-23).
‘They took him down from the tree.’ We note that both Peter (compare Acts 5:30) and Paul stress that He was hung on a tree, both having in mind Deuteronomy 22:22-23. (Compare also Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24). Both mentions emphasise the Jewish viewpoint of the speaker. The point is that Jesus was treated by man as a criminal and as accursed, something which God demonstrated was totally untrue by raising Him from the dead. Thus the Jewish ‘experts’ were proved to be totally wrong about Him, and all men should now be ready to accept God’s openly revealed verdict.
‘And they laid him in a tomb.’ ‘They’ did it, for it was after all one of their own councillors, who, with his Jewish servants, arranged for the burial of Jesus. This was important. The point is that Jews were involved from start to finish in His death and all connected with it (we do not expect attention to detail in a short speech), and expected nothing further once it was done. This was true even of the best of them. The equal point is that God had no part in it. These actions were to be seen as having been the very opposite of God’s view, demonstrated by the fact that He countered the curse, and the taking down from the tree, and the burial, and reversing them all raised Him from the dead. Even the devout and pious Joseph had not expected that. But God had surprised everyone. He had made clear that this One was His chosen One, His Messiah, the One whom He had appointed to be Lord of all.
We may take it as certain that Paul knew of what Joseph had done. It was not done secretly and the Jews would certainly want to know where he was buried, especially in view of the claims by witnesses to have seen Him risen from the dead. It would be a talking point in Jerusalem and would not go unnoticed.
“But God raised him from the dead, and he was seen for many days by those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people.”
But that was not the end, for God raised Him (egeiren) from the dead, just as he had ‘raised up David’ (egeiren - Acts 13:22), so that He was seen of many witnesses. He had ‘raised up David’ when he had been almost under sentence of death, delivering him and keeping him for when He would appoint him king. And He had done the same for Jesus. But this time the sentence of death had been allowed to be carried out, and he had then revealed man’s folly by counteracting it, and even more, by exalting the One Whom He had raised, just as the prophets had said (Isaiah 52:13; Daniel 7:13-14)). Again God was bearing witness to the Greater David Whom He had sent. And these witnesses were not men of Jerusalem, but men of Galilee, those who had come up with Him to Jerusalem.
Having thus declared the resurrection, and emphasised the many witnesses, he now seeks to demonstrate it from the Scriptures. For as he has previously said, the Scriptures too are witnesses (Acts 13:27; Acts 13:29).
Anyone purporting to be Paul and seeking to imagine what he might have said, would have introduced the account of Paul’s own vision of the risen Jesus here as evidence for the resurrection. But Paul himself recognised that that experience had been unique and personal, not something to be openly spoke of in order to provide a witness for the resurrection.
“And we bring you good tidings of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled the same to our children, in that he raised up Jesus, as also it is written in the second psalm, ‘You are my Son, this day have I begotten you.’ ”
So, he now tells them, he and his companions have come to them with Good News, the Good News of the promise made to their fathers, Good News now being fulfilled to them, the children of their fathers. For He has raised up (anastesas) Jesus, just as was written in the second Psalm, ‘You are My Son, this day have I begotten you’ (Psalms 2:7).
Some see ‘raised up Jesus’ here as referring to His being ‘raised up’ in His coming, and birth, and life, in contrast with Him ‘raising Him from the dead’ in Acts 13:34. Others, however, give the latter significance to both, for reference back to Acts 13:30 demonstrates that we are in the context of the resurrection..
Paul is here using the second Psalm with its Messianic significance. This very quotation had been cited by God at Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:11 and parallels) and at His transfiguration, when His Sonship was most clearly revealed (Mark 9:7 and parallels). This would support the idea therefore that ‘raised up’ refers to His being raised up in His birth and life. The idea of the quotation is then that, as revealed at His baptism and transfiguration God, he was the begotten of God.
But as the Scriptures had declared that He must suffer and die, so this Psalm was equally the declaration that, speaking of the Greater David, God must bring Him forth alive again as His own Son the Anointed One against whom Israel and the nations had brought threatenings and slaughter (compare Acts 4:25-28), raising Him up after what they had foully done to Him, just as the Psalm had made clear would happen. Thus it is also declaring the certainty of His resurrection. This ties in with the use of Psalms 2:7 in Hebrews 1:5 where it connects back to His ‘being made better than the angels’ as a result of sitting down at ‘the right hand of the Majesty on high’, and in Hebrews 5:5 where it refers to when he was glorified as High Priest. In the end Jesus was ‘begotten’ by His Father in an eternal today, beginning when the plan of salvation was determined before time began, continuing at His birth, confirmed at His baptism and transfiguration, and openly declared at His resurrection and enthronement. Each step of the way God confirmed His ‘adoption’.
While it is true that in its original meaning the Psalm had pointed to God’s adoption of the sons of David as those whom He would adopt to rule in His name, it was always with the fact in mind that one day there would be an everlasting King Who would be so begotten by God. And this may be gleaned quite clearly from 2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16. Thus in the end the seed of David was to be an everlasting King. And in the light of the revelation of the suffering and death of the greater David, the Psalm had now become a resurrection Psalm. How else could the suffering Servant ‘see His seed and prolong His days’ and ‘divide His portion with the great and divide the spoil with the strong’ (Isaiah 53:10; Isaiah 53:12)? Only because God had at His resurrection declared of Him, ‘You are My Son, this day have I begotten You’.
It should be noted again that this phrase has already been shown to apply to more than just one point in time. He was begotten of God at His birth (John 1:14). The idea had been applied at His baptism (Mark 1:11). It had been applied at His transfiguration (Mark 9:7). In a sense God was constantly ‘begetting’ Him, that is, officially adopting Him for the next stage in His activity and declaring Him at each point to be His own Son. It clearly also occurred at His resurrection and enthronement when His ‘begetting’ as His King was most made apparent (Hebrews 1:5). He was then the "first born from the dead" (Colossians 1:18) and was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4). We must not freeze out the glory of such statements by pedantic analysis, tossing away the grain and leaving the husk.
“And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, ‘I will give you the holy blessings (ta hosia) of David, the sure ones.’ ”
A further Scripture that evidences the rising again from the dead of the coming greater David is Isaiah 55:3. There God had declared, ‘I will give you the holy blessings of David, the sure ones’. Those holy and sure blessings signified the promises in 2 Samuel 7:0, the promises in the end of eternal unceasing kingship. But if the Messiah was first to die then this eternal kingship also could only be fulfilled by His resurrection to everlasting life. For only as the One Who would live everlastingly could He receive eternal blessing and eternal kingship. Thus the promise of these ‘sure blessings’ (ta hosia) in the Scriptures was the guarantee of His resurrection and eternal kingship.
“Because he says also in another psalm, ‘You will not give Your Holy One (ton hosion) to see corruption.’ For David, after he had in his own generation served the counsel of God, fell asleep, and was laid with his fathers, and saw corruption, but he whom God raised up saw no corruption.”
And a third Scripture which declared the resurrection, which linked with the second by association (ta hosia with ton hosion) was Psalms 16:10, where the Psalmist had stated, ‘You will not give Your Holy One to see corruption.’ Now, says Paul, it was quite clear that David had seen corruption. He fulfilled God’s wisdom in his own generation, and then fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption (compare notes on Acts 2:24-31). But the Scripture asserts that the true Holy One would not see corruption. Of whom then could the Psalmist be speaking? The answer is, of course, of the greater David, the promised One of the house of David.
It must be recognised that the Jews saw the Psalms as revealing the words of the Holy Spirit. All Davidic Psalms were therefore seen as applying in principle to the whole house of David. As each ‘David’ sang them he could apply them to himself. And as the people sang them they could apply them to each ‘David’. But all recognised that in the end some parts of each Psalm could only apply to the one in whom they were fulfilled, and no one doubted that that fulfilment would come. Thus there was a sense in which every Davidic Psalm was Messianic, for all would apply to the Messiah in so far as they were true of Him and had not previously been fulfilled.
So He it is Who is the true Holy One. And as such He is incorruptible. Thus He had had to be raised up within three days so that he saw no corruption. For he Who was God’s true Holy One could not possibly be subject to corruption. His sanctification precluded it. Such a thing could not happen to God’s Holy One.
“Be it known to you therefore, men, brethren, that through this man is proclaimed to you remission of sins, and by him every one who believes is justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.”
‘Be it known to you therefore.’ As a result of what he has declared about Jesus certain things necessarily follow and should be heeded. We must remember here that the full content of his speech would have been a lot more and that some of his points would have been applied in more depth.
‘Men. brethren.’ All are included, whether Jew, proselyte or God-fearer.
‘Through this man is proclaimed to you remission (forgiveness) of sins.’ Through Jesus forgiveness of sins is being proclaimed. Why? Because as the innocent One He suffered cursing by being hung on a tree. Because He suffered for sins not His own. And because He was then vindicated and raised again from the dead demonstrating that those sins had been dealt with for ever. Because He was the living embodiment of the suffering Servant in Isaiah 53:0, Who was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities..
And it should be noted what this forgiveness involves. It is not speaking of being ‘let off’ It is speaking of having the sin ‘remitted’, ‘sent away’, ‘removed’, put behind God’s back. The forgiven person is made as though they had never sinned.
‘And by him every one who believes is justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.’ And the result of full forgiveness is that the forgiven one who believes is ‘justified’, is ‘legally pronounced righteous’, being free from the guilt of all their sin. They stand there as though they had not sinned. The law of Moses could not do this. The law of Moses could only declare a person ‘justified’ where there had been complete obedience. But none stood before God completely obedient, therefore none could be justified by the Law.
It is pedantic nonsense to argue about whether someone could be ‘partly justified’ by the Law, with the remainder being made up by forgiveness. Partial justification is no justification at all. That is to treat sin as a thing. But it is not the sin that is being judged, it is the man. It is not the action that is being either justified or declared guilty but the man. Either the man is wholly a sinner or he is wholly not a sinner. It is not possible to be half and half. The question is not whether some particular action can be justified but whether each man stands there justified, cleared on all counts. And the answer in all cases is that if the standard is the law he is wholly guilty. The law shrieks out again and again, ‘you are the lawbreaker, you are guilty, guilty, guilty’. Thus by the works of the law shall no man be found guiltless, for by the law is the knowledge of sin (Galatians 3:10). He who has offended on one point is guilty of all (James 2:10).
And how is this justification and forgiveness achieved? Through His cross. We have nothing to do, He has done all. What then is necessary to our salvation? The answer is faith. Not as a work that we must do but as a response which will come from our hearts through the working of the Holy Spirit within us as we learn what He has done for us. No man there chose whether he would believe. Some believed and responded because they were prepared ground. They were open to Paul’s words, and to the Holy Spirit at work in their hearts. And as they heard response welled up within them. Others rejected because the ground was hard, or weed-ridden. They rejected the working of the Spirit. Yet in the end each responded as he would. They could not blame God.
Paul’s Message - Part 3. He Calls For a Genuine Response To God’s Offer of Mercy (13:38-41).
“Beware therefore, lest that come on you which is spoken in the prophets, ‘Behold, you despisers, and wonder, and perish, for I work a work in your days, a work which you shall in no wise believe, if one declare it to you.’ ”
But what of those who did not respond. Let them beware, says Paul. Let them remember the words of Habakkuk the prophet in Habakkuk 1:5. ‘Behold, you despisers, and wonder, and perish, for I work a work in your days, A work which you shall in no wise believe, if one declare it to you.’ It is the principle behind these words that is in mind not the context. It is a warning that when God works it is time to take note. For those who become aware of God’s working and ignore it end up wondering and perishing. When awesome things are happening which appear to be unbelievable, it is wise to see God’s hand in it and respond.
The context of Habakkuk’s words was the approach of the invaders. The Babylonians were coming and there would be such things occurring as would be beyond belief. And sadly Israel were so blind to God’s working that it would inevitably come on them. They would suffer the consequences precisely because they could not believe that it was of God, and that God would do what He had said. And yet as he would go on to point out, those who were righteous by faith would live (Acts 2:4). Those whose hearts were open towards God would be accepted by Him and would have life.
And the same was true for Paul’s listeners. God had worked an even greater wonder in their day. Would they wonder and perish because they were unbelievers? Or would they respond and believe and find life and forgiveness through His Name?
‘And as they went out, they besought that these words might be spoken to them the next sabbath.’
Paul’s words met with a partially receptive response. Those present wanted to hear more. As they departed they begged him, Would he not then come and speak to them again on the following sabbath?
But sadly some of them were of those who wonder and perish. Had they made their response immediately how different it might have been. For by the next Sabbath events had occurred that caused their hearts to harden and they never had another opportunity.
‘Now when the synagogue broke up, many of the Jews and of the devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.’
But aside from those who put off their response were many Jews and God-fearers (‘devout proselytes’ here almost certainly refers to the God-fearers, the ‘proselytes of the gate’) who did not put off their response but followed Paul and Barnabas in order that they might learn more. And Paul and Barnabas spoke to them and taught them and then urged them to continue ‘in the grace of God’. This last in context signifies that they responded to God’s lovingkindness and mercy, His unmerited favour, receiving forgiveness and justification in His Name, and were being urged to continue in it.
The Consequences of Paul’s Speech (13:43-52).
The principle behind the words of Habakkuk were remarkably ‘fulfilled’. Many of the Jews who were there that day could not face up to the work in their day that they saw. It was beyond their belief that multitudes of Gentiles unconnected with the synagogue should flock to hear the word of God, and what was even worse respond to it. They could not believe it and they chose to wonder and perish. But others, both Jew and Gentile, did respond and discovered that those who were righteous by faith would live.
‘And the next sabbath almost the whole city was gathered together to hear the word of God.’
And these believers not only ‘continued’ in the grace of God, they went everywhere telling everyone about it, so that the whole city knew of these men and what they had to say. How else could the whole city have known about it? For when some continue in the grace of God, the many will want to hear the word of God.
And what thrilling words are these. ‘Almost the whole city gathered -- to hear the word of God.’ That little synagogue found itself surrounded by huge crowds such as they had never dreamed of, and they had come, not to persecute the Jews, but to hear the teaching which came from the Jews’ own holy books. How grateful, how thankful, how filled with glory they should have been. This was indeed a work in their day which should have caused them to believe. How could it not? But they wondered and perished. And why? Because they were ‘jealous’. This probably does not mean that they were jealous of Paul and Barnabas. No. They were jealous for God. It did not seem right that all these idol-worshippers should gather to join in the worship of the synagogue. It was debasing and degrading. Indeed was it not blasphemy? Had one or two more than usual slipped in with proper introductions they would have rejoiced and commended Paul and Barnabas, but they could not handle a whole multitude. In their eyes it was destroying all that the synagogue stood for. These people could not be genuine, and the discipline of the synagogue would be destroyed.
‘But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted the things which were spoken by Paul, and blasphemed.’
And the result of the ‘jealousy’ of the Jews was that, instead of again hearing Paul (Acts 13:42) they stood up and contradicted all he said, and ‘blasphemed’, which probably means that they sought to discredit the name of Jesus and what God had done according to Paul’s teaching. In other words, being unwilling to be saved themselves, and being wrapped up in the narrowness of their own thinking about God, they attacked Paul’s message and tried to put the Gentiles off from responding and being saved. How unbelievable it was, and yet it happened. They saw a work in their day and it was too much for them with the result that they wondered and perished.
Paul had to recognise that a wholesale dispute carried out in an antagonistic manner would do no good to anyone. He had to recognise that it was not of their doing. It was of God. As with Peter in the face of the cloth full of unclean beasts which had been sanctified by God, they also were being called on to choose. On the one side a dry, antagonistic, spiritually empty synagogue (all the spiritual ones were already with Paul and Barnabas), and on the other a multitude of ‘unclean Gentiles’ who were undoubtedly touched by God. And they knew that they could not doubt the choice that they were having to make. They really had no option but to desert the synagogue (by necessity, not choice) and preach to the Gentiles, because the synagogue would not allow the Gentiles to crowd in to hear the word of God. (No wonder he was later horrified at the teaching that these converted Gentiles were then to become like these Jews. God was here teaching him an important lesson that he had not realised before).
It was the first time that they had been faced with this stark choice, but they both recognised that they had no alternative. If they had to choose between being allowed into a sedate, half empty, narrow minded synagogue, where their tongues were to be tied, and where they would no longer obtain a hearing, or going somewhere where they could proclaim the Good News to thirsty and receptive Gentiles, who were unquestionably ready to hear and respond in large numbers, there was only one choice that they could make. Indeed the Jews had made the choice for them.
How his own quotation of Habakkuk must have come back to him. Here indeed was work in their day which was almost unbelievable. How then could he be one of those who wondered and perished?
‘And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should first be spoken to you. Seeing you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” ’
And so Paul and Barnabas boldly declared their position. They had come first to the Jews. Indeed it had been necessary for them to do so because of the urging of their own hearts and the command of God. They had longed to see the Jews turning to the word of God. And they had fulfilled that responsibility.
But now the Jews had had their opportunity and had made their choice and had determined to thrust their message from them. They had adjudged themselves not worthy of eternal life. Now therefore they were turning to these hungry, seeking Gentiles, who were waiting in darkness like sheep without a shepherd.
“For so has the Lord commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you for a light of the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the uttermost part of the earth.’
And they were comforted by this one fact. That this was what the Lord had commanded them in the Scriptures. For He had declared to His Servant ‘I have set you for a light of the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the uttermost part of the earth’ (Isaiah 49:6). Thus by their action in bringing light to these darkened hearts they were demonstrating their oneness with the Servant of God Who had come, and were aligning themselves with Him in His task of bringing them salvation, a task which also became theirs, because by being united with Him they too had become God’s Servant.
‘And as the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of God: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.’
The great crowds of Gentiles who had gathered and would be wondering what decision was going to be made, and whether they were going to be allowed a part in this new message, were glad when they heard this decision. And they listened to what Paul and Barnabas had to say, and many with open hearts received it, and ‘glorified’ the word of God. They glorified it because they spoke well of it and the fact that they could receive it. But even more they glorified it because they recognised its truth and its full worth and responded to it. But what was even better was that those who were ‘disposed’ towards eternal life believed. Those of the ‘unclean Gentiles’ who were in Paul’s sheet that day, whom God had cleansed, were received by the Lord.
‘As many as were ordained (appointed, appointed mutually, disposed) to eternal life believed.’ The meaning of this verse is not dependent on arguing about a verb. This incident had in a sense been a show case. On the one hand was man’s proposing, the ideas and narrow thinking of the Jews, the undoubted uncertainty of others in the face of the unexpected disputation, the stark and unwanted choice that Paul and Barnabas were faced with. And on the other was God’s disposing. He had forced His will. He had left Paul and Barnabas with no acceptable alternative. He had gathered together in an unmistakable way this huge crowd of Gentiles, making quite clear thereby that many of them were of His choosing. He was working by His Holy Spirit in many of their hearts, thus being in process of ‘sanctifying’ them to Himself. And He was calling on Paul and Barnabas to gather in the harvest. And as they cast their net by proclaiming the word of God, that word of God which goes forward to do His will (Isaiah 55:11), those whom He had planned that day would be His had come to Him. Those whom He had appointed to eternal life believed. We may argue as we will. We may take up what position we will. But one thing is clear. That day it was all God’s doing.
We must also notice the contrast between two options. In Acts 13:46 the Jews had ‘judged themselves unworthy of eternal life’. It was their choice alone. But here in Acts 13:48 those who believed had not judged themselves worthy of eternal life. They had responded to God’s appointment. It was God Who had appointed them to eternal life as the circumstances had made clear.
‘And the word of the Lord was spread abroad throughout all the region.’
With such an amazing response and such a God the result was a foregone conclusion. The word of the Lord was spread abroad throughout all the region. Like wildfire the word spread from town to town, from village to village and the assumption is undoubtedly that multitudes responded.
We note here that this is the fourth mention of ‘the word’. In Acts 13:44 the crowds, both Jew and Gentile, come together to hear ‘the word of God’. In Acts 13:46 that ‘word of God’ had been offered to the Jews but they had put it from them. In Acts 13:48 the Gentiles glorified ‘the word of the Lord’. And in Acts 13:49 ‘the word of the Lord’ goes throughout all the region. Note how to the Jews or to the combined Jews and Gentiles it was the word of ‘God’, while to the Gentiles it was ‘the word of the Lord’. It was no longer exclusive, but all inclusive, for it was ‘the Lord’, YHWH God Himself, Who had commanded that it go forth to the Gentiles (Acts 13:47).
‘But the Jews urged on the devout women of honourable estate, and the chief men of the city, and stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and cast them out of their borders.’
If only he could have cut off the story with Acts 13:49. But Luke could not, for he was declaring the truth. And the truth was that once God began to work, opposition began. For the highly positioned devout women, those who were married to men in important positions, women who had become Jewish proselytes or God-fearers, and the chief men themselves (the city magistrates responsible for law and order) probably contacted mainly through their wives’ influence and urged on by them, found themselves being urged by the Jews to have these men expelled from the region, an expulsion that would be carried out roughly and forcefully. It was like an ejection from a night club. They would be able to come back later if they were ready to behave themselves. The description is historically accurate. Wealthy women had much more influence in Asia Minor than they did elsewhere.
So one week these Jews had stood at the door of the synagogue saying, we must hear more of this. Now they were making plain that they wanted no more of it. But what is wore, that they wanted to prevent anyone else having more of it. That was what was inexcusable. It was a shameful and evil thing to do.
Part of the truth was, of course, that they were afraid. Their synagogue life had previously become comfortable. They had it all organised and everything was in place. Life went on smoothly as it was. Each had his settled status. Now they had visions of hordes of Gentiles swamping the synagogue weekly. They saw everything changing. It was going to be difficult refusing people admittance. Their own position was going to be watered down by newcomers. They were going to lose control. Their little world was going to be turned upside down. They did not see the opportunity, they only saw the dangers. They would not have stated it but their view was, that if God wanted to work it would be better if He did it somewhere else. And the only way that they could think of in which they could maintain the status quo was to rid themselves of the ones who had caused the disturbance.
But that is not the whole explanation, for had it been they would have left things alone once Paul and Barnabas were gone. The truth was that an evil bent of mind had also taken possession of them which would result in their carrying their hatred to Lystra. They had become bitter people.
‘But they shook off the dust of their feet against them, and came to Iconium.’
But this did not put Paul and Barnabas out. They shook the dust off their feet, both revealing that their task was done in that region and they were moving on, and as a testimony against those who had turned them away. This was in accordance with the teaching of Jesus Himself. The dust would stand as a testimony to God in that Day, both of the fact that the Kingly Rule of God had been brought to them, and that they had chosen to turn from it (Luke 10:10-11), and of the treatment they had meted out to His servants. Now they could begin again in Iconium.
‘And the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.’
By ‘the disciples’ here we are no doubt intended to see all the believers who have been involved. Both those whom they had left in Pisidian Antioch, and they themselves also, were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit. While they were sad to part from each other, the realisation and experience that guaranteed that the Holy Spirit was with them overrode everything. If He be for us who can be against us? This is the filling (pleroo) which is open to all believers all the time while their hearts are set on God. It is like the filling in Ephesians 5:18-19, and the being ‘full of’ the Holy Spirit elsewhere, where the believer is filled with joy, and wisdom, and faith (Acts 6:3; Acts 6:5; Acts 11:24). (It contrasts with ‘being filled (pimplemi) with the Holy Spirit which refers to inspiration in speaking). They were walking in the Spirit and enjoying God’s presence. It is a sentence which set the seal on all that God had done in Pisidian Antioch.
It also provides us with the assurance that these believers were being catered for. It declared that all was well. Some of the converted Jews and God-fearers would be well versed in Scripture and God would raise up prophets among them, so that by the direction of the Spirit they would declare the word of God. Furthermore Paul and Barnabas were still within reach and could be consulted if necessary. Believers no doubt saw them off when they were expelled. And it might even have been that a lesser known member of their party was able to remain behind to keep things going until Paul returned, as they knew that he surely would. We can be confident that God and Paul (or Barnabas) had it well catered for, even though their expulsion (Paul and party’s, not God’s) had taken them by surprise and they had not had time to set up a fully established leadership. That would take place on their return.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Acts 13". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany