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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Acts 13

 

 

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Verses 1-52

From this time our attention is drawn particularly to the work of Saul, whose name is in this chapter changed to Paul, meaning "little," for one who is the most greatly used of God is, in his own estimation "less than the least of all saints" (Ephesians 3:8). In verse 1 there is no indication that anyone had a place superior to any other. Five prophets and teachers are mentioned as being in the Antioch assembly, and Saul is in fact listed last. Simeon's name is Jewish, but his last name, Niger, (meaning "black") may indicate he was dark-skinned. Lucius was of Cyrene in the area of Libya.

Antioch now becomes the center from which the work spreads, no doubt because of its practical exemplification of Christianity in the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers. The Spirit of God intervenes as these brethren are engaged in "ministering to the Lord" and fasting. There is evidently serious exercise to both give the Lord their allegiance and time, and to seek His guidance. The Spirit then clearly announces that Barnabas and Saul are to be separated for a special work. This call of God should be a very real thing to all whom God chooses to use. Human call or ordination of men has nothing to do with it. Yet when God shows His mind, then other saints should be glad to express their fellowship with what he is doing, as is the case in verse 3, for the laying on of hands was simply an expression of identification with their work.

They let them go; but it was the Spirit of God who sent them forth. Nothing is said of the results of their work at Seleucia or at Salamis or in the isle of Cyprus, though they preached the word in the synagogues, surely bearing in mind that the gospel is "to the Jew first."

However, a significant experience with a Jew is a striking sign of what was taking place in the Jewish nation as a whole. The deputy of the country, a Roman of prudent character, requested to hear the word of God from Barnabas and Saul. But a Jewish false prophet and sorcerer named Bar-Jesus ("son of Jesus" -- a deceitfully misleading name!) was present, opposing God's word in his trying to influence Sergius Paulus against the truth as presented by Barnabas and Saul. When the deputy had asked them to explain the things of God, it was certainly rude interference for Elymas to interpose his wicked objections.

In answer to the cunning opposition of Elymas the Sorcerer Paul did an exceptionally solemn thing, clearly led by the Spirit of God to do so. His words were startling, exposing the condition of the man as being full of all subtlety and mischief, a child of the devil and an enemy of all righteousness. Normally we ought never to go this far in speaking to a man, but Paul was clearly led by the Spirit of God in doing so. He appeals also to his conscience as to his perverting the right ways of the Lord.

This was not all, however. Paul tells him what is proven true immediately, that the hand of the Lord upon him would blind him for a period of time (v.11). Similarly, because Of Israel's resistance to the truth as it is in Jesus, "blindness in part is happened to Israel" (Romans 11:25). Since that time, wandering in darkness, they have sought direction from any source but the Lord, looking for someone to lead them by the hand.

The deputy, deeply impressed, believed the teaching of the Lord. If Gentiles rightly consider the ways of God's government with Israel, they cannot but acknowledge its truth, its righteousness and its grace.

Though nothing is said of their work or of any experiences in Perga (meaning "very earthy"), John Mark left Paul and Barnabas there and returned to Jerusalem (not to Antioch in Syria, from which city they had left). Had Mark found the work in Cyprus more disturbing than he expected? Whatever the case, the apostle Paul was not happy about his departing from the work (Chapter 15:38).

Back on the mainland they come to Antioch in Pisidia (in present day Turkey), not actually such a great distance north of Antioch in Syria. Visiting the local synagogue on the sabbath day, they sit down. The regular custom of reading in the law and the prophets began the service. Then the rulers of the synagogue, recognizing Paul and Barnabas as Jews and men of evident ability, invited them to speak. Certainly this was the Lord's opening of the way for them.

Paul then gives them a brief, pointed summary of Israel's history, their having been chosen by God who brought them out of Egypt, bearing with their many failures in their forty year wilderness history, subduing seven nations before them in establishing them in the land of Canaan, dividing their inheritance to them by lot. From that time He gave them judges up to the end of 450 years until Samuel the prophet.

Then in answer to their own demand He gave them a king, Saul of the tribe of Benjamin, for a period of forty years. Removing him, He gave them David, saying of him that he was a man after God's own heart who would fulfil God's will.

In all of this it is clear that God was from time to time changing His dispensational dealings with Israel, leading them from one point to another, and certainly having a definite end in view. In fact, Israel had recognized that David, being a man after God's heart who would fulfil His will, was a manifest type of their coming Messiah, the Son of David, whom Israel claimed to be expecting.

Paul comes directly to this vital point. There was no question that Jesus was of the seed of David. God had raised Him up as a Savior to Israel, according to His promise. Of course Israel refused Him because He did not come in the power and glory that they expected. Yet they had clear testimony given them through John the Baptist, who had fittingly preached the baptism of repentance in preparation of the way of the Lord. All Israel knew that John was a true prophet of God, who took the lowest place in deference to the greatness of Him to whom he bore witness, insisting that he was not worthy to loose the shoes of His feet. There was not the least doubt left as to who this was, for when Jesus came to him in the presence of all the people, he declared, "Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:20).

Paul's address then makes clear that God had given a progressive revelation to Israel, which manifestly had the person of Jesus the Messiah in view. He presses upon them as children of the stock of Abraham (and including also all among them who feared God), that the word of this salvation was sent to them.

Though the word of God's salvation was sent in great grace to Israel, yet Paul declares plainly to the Jews that the rulers in Jerusalem, refusing to recognize Jesus or to bow to the truth of their own scriptures that were read every sabbath day in their services, had actually fulfilled their scriptures in condemning the Lord Jesus. Not being able to bring any charge of guilt against Him, they had yet demanded that Pilate should deliver Him to death. Without realizing it they had done precisely what scripture had said they would do. His betrayal, His crucifixion, the piercing of His hands and feet and side, and many other details spoken of in prophecy were fulfilled to the letter, then His removal from the cross, being laid in the grave.

"But God raised Him from the dead." This too had been prophesied, both in the Old Testament and by the Lord Himself. Many witnesses also had seen Him after His resurrection, during many days, specifically those who had come with Him from Galilee.

Therefore it was the great privilege of Paul and Barnabas to declare glad tidings to Israel first that God had fulfilled His clear promise to Israel in raising up Jesus (not "again," for this does not refer to His resurrection, but to His incarnation): "this day have I begotten Thee." The expression "Thou art my Son" is that which has been true of Him from eternity past. His being begotten "this day" refers to the day of His incarnation in Manhood. He is God's Son: He did not become Son, but is now the Son incarnate.

In verse 34 Paul specifically speaks of His resurrection from among the dead, again quoting scripture, "I will give you the sure mercies of David" (Isaiah 55:3). This was written long after David had died, and is connected with "an everlasting covenant" in contrast to the temporary covenant of law. It must therefore be based on resurrection power connected with Him who is "Leader and Commander to the people," as Isaiah adds in Isaiah 55:4, that is, the Son of David.

Paul then quotes Psalms 16:10 : "Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption." This is most arresting as indicating nothing less than resurrection before corruption could set in. David wrote this, but after he had in his own generation served the will of God, died and saw corruption. Again, it was David's son to whom he had borne witness, He whom God raised from the dead and who saw no corruption.

Wonderful then is the message that Paul emphatically declares, that "through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins." More than simply forgiveness, however, he declares that all who believe in Jesus are justified from all things. The law of Moses could not possibly forgive sins nor justify the guilty: it exposed and condemned sin, and declared all men to be guilty. To forgive is to graciously discharge one's offenses. To justify is to righteously constitute one not guilty. The blessed sacrifice of Christ alone can accomplish so marvellous a result, both removing the guilt of sin and crediting the believer in Jesus with a righteousness that can never be taken from him.

Appropriately this message of great grace is followed by a solemn warning as to the results of despising such grace. Habakkuk 1:5 is quoted to emphasize the fact that God had foretold that Israel would refuse to believe the reality of what God Himself would work, though declared plainly to them. They might indeed wonder at the marvel of it, but with no faith in the living God, therefore having only the ominous prospect of perishing under the judgment of God.

Verse 42 is evidently more correctly translated in J.N.D's version, "And as they went out they begged that these words might be spoken to them the ensuing sabbath." Of course it would be Jews and proselytes in the synagogue, and Gentiles would not be aware of what had been spoken, but would surely hear about it before the next sabbath. The effect on many of the Jews and proselytes was so immediate as to cause them to follow Paul and Barnabas, and they would not likely keep silent as to what they had heard. Paul and Barnabas used the occasion to give them the spiritual help they needed, urging them to continue in the grace of God.

Paul's first address at Antioch in Pisidia had awakened such interest that on the following sabbath day, not only Jews, but almost the whole city assembled to hear the Word of God. The power of God was manifestly behind this awakened interest, as the Jews should have discerned. Yet, when they saw the crowds present, they were filled with envy rather than with like concern to learn the truth of God. This selfish Jewish sectarianism blinded their minds to the preciousness of the grace of God, and through it they ignorantly sentenced themselves to a state of desolation. Selfishness always defeats its own ends. Opposing what Paul was speaking, they not only contradicted, but blasphemed (verse 45), which indicates their contempt for God Himself, so intent were they in maintaining their sectarian pride.

The words of Paul and Barnabas to them were therefore bold and decisive. Because Jews were the nation chosen by God, it was right and necessary that the Word of God should first be declared to them. But in rejecting that Word, they were judging themselves as being unworthy of everlasting life. They were choosing death. "Lo, we turn to the Gentiles" were solemn words that no doubt stirred the Jews to more bitter hostility. Of course some of them had been saved, but the many were opposed. Paul's turning to the Gentiles was consistent with Old Testament scripture. He quotes Isaiah 49:6, the words of God to the Messiah, "I have set Thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth." Certainly the Jews had nothing to reply to this, but their minds were set: they would not be changed by their own scriptures.

The grace of God wrought mightily in the Gentile audience: they were glad and glorified the Word of the Lord. The sovereign election of God is indicated here very decisively in the words, "as many as were ordained to eternal life believed." The Word of God was making itself manifest and those who were elect of God responded. The entire region then was blessed with the publishing of the Word of God.

The Jews, refusing the gospel themselves, were determined also that it should not be preached to Gentiles. This is a sad indication of the perversity of man's natural heart. For, despising the Gentiles as they did, why were they not glad that Gentiles were receiving what they considered poisonous doctrine? But they were moved by blind, unreasoning hatred toward the name of Jesus, for that very name was a challenge to their national pride. Cunningly they stir up devout and honorable women, not the lower classes; for women are more likely to become excited where religion is concerned, and to influence men. The chief men of the city were the special object of this influence. Of course the Jews could point to the fact that Paul and Barnabas had only newly arrived in the city and were causing unwanted commotion. Paul and Barnabas were expelled out of the city.

However, they left behind them many new believers. While they solemnly shook off the dust of their feet in leaving to go to Iconium, the disciples remaining there were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. Persecution could not take this away.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Acts 13:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/acts-13.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, December 12th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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