Acts 13: 1 – 52
13 Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. 4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John as their assistant. 6 Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, 7 who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 9 Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? 11 And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.” And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord. 13 Now when Paul and his party set sail from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem. 14 But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down. 15 And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, “Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.” 16 Then Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen: 17 The God of this people Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He brought them out of it. 18 Now for a time of about forty years He put up with their ways in the wilderness. 19 And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land to them by allotment. 20 “After that He gave them judges for about four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. 21 And afterward they asked for a king; so God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. 22 And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’ 23 From this man’s seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Savior—Jesus— 24 after John had first preached, before His coming, the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘Who do you think I am? I am not He. But behold, there comes One after me, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to loose.’ 26 “Men and brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to you the word of this salvation has been sent. 27 For those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they did not know Him, nor even the voices of the Prophets which are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled them in condemning Him. 28 And though they found no cause for death in Him, they asked Pilate that He should be put to death. 29 Now when they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb. 30 But God raised Him from the dead. 31 He was seen for many days by those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His witnesses to the people. 32 And we declare to you glad tidings—that promise which was made to the fathers. 33 God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.’ 34 And that He raised Him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, He has spoken thus: ‘I will give you the sure mercies of David.’ 35 Therefore He also says in another Psalm: ‘You will not allow Your Holy One to see corruption.’ 36 “For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption; 37 but He whom God raised up saw no corruption. 38 Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; 39 and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses. 40 Beware therefore, lest what has been spoken in the prophets come upon you: 41 ‘Behold, you despisers, marvel and perish! for I work a work in your days, a work which you will by no means believe, though one were to declare it to you.’” 42 So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. 43 Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. 44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. 45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. 46 Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’” 48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. 49 And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region. 50 But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them, and came to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
It has been said that a stint in the military makes you into a man. Having personally experienced this condition first hand, I can verify the term’s accuracy. I would like to add another statement and it is that a stint in traveling evangelism makes you into a joyful Christian. This fact I also have experienced on numerous occasions.
I love Isaiah’s desire to do whatever God wants. We read in chapter 6 of his book, “8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” 9 And He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ 10 “Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and return and be healed.”
Here are some remarks from other believers which I believe speak on this subject:
"God isn't looking for people of great faith, but for individuals ready to follow Him" — Hudson Taylor
"I have but one candle of life to burn, and I would rather burn it out in a land filled with darkness than in a land flooded with light" — John Keith Falconer
"If a commission by an earthly king is considered a honor, how can a commission by a Heavenly King be considered a sacrifice?" — David Livingstone
They say that we are in the Lord’s army. Many people say they have no ability to serve. I know that at least you can carry a sword into the battle which is the Word of God? Just bring your body willing to serve and your mind will follow --Thomas Joseph Swope
In our last study in chapter 12 verse 25 said, ‘And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministration, taking with them John whose surname was Mark.’ Having accomplished their task and demonstrated the love and unity between the two churches, Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch, and took with them John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin.
Starting our study with this verse helps the rest of the text flow smoothly.
13 Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
We learned in chapter 11 verse 27 that prophets had come from Jerusalem to Antioch. Please 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 which we learn in chapter 11 verses 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 which was also pointed out in chapter 11 verse 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 honors for the sake of the new Messiah. Last to be mentioned is Saul.
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’.
2 As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
To ‘minister to the Lord’ would involve worship, prophesying, and teaching the gathered people. Their fasting, something rarely mentioned in the New Testament, 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. 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 recognized the full significance of what they were doing.
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.
3 Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.
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 leadership 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.
4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they 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 which he comments about in the letter to the Galatians 1.16-2.2.
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 evangelized by those described in 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.
5 And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John as their assistant.
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 practice -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 (11.19-20). John Mark had gone along with them to act as their assistant in many ways, and probably as a trainee.
6 Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, 7 who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.
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 sorcerer and a false prophet, and acted as religious adviser to the pro-consul Sergius Paulus.
There is the possibility that he had taken the name because of the fame of our Lord Jesus, seeking to indicate his connection with the famous miracle-worker. This would explain Saul’s vehement response to the man, ‘(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 practiced ‘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.
Bar-jesus had used his background and ‘tricks’ 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. I find it interesting that he name of a pro-consul named Paulus have been discovered on a North Cypriot inscription. The pro-consul called for Barnabas and Saul to declare to him the word of God.
8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away 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’. 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).
9 Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?
Saul, who was already filled with the Holy Spirit 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 recognized the deliberate deceit and guile 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’.
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.
Please take note that here we see the permanent change in names - ‘Saul, who is also called Paul.’ Saul was his Hebrew name, Paul his Greek name. Now that his ministry is to be mainly to Greek speakers Luke will use his Greek name.
11 And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.” And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand.
‘The hand of the Lord is on you.’ This is a typical Old Testament phrase 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. 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.
12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, 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 this man’s faith survived.
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 which we will read about in chapter 18 verses 12-17.
Paul ‘and his company’ left Paphos and sailed across to Perga in Pamphylia. Please note 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.
It may also be this that unsettled Mark. He was not yet up to his cousin’s humility. Ministers like Paul are hard to cope with. They must either be given rein, or they are unable to operate. Barnabas recognized 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, and did not want to.
13 Now when Paul and his party set sail from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem.
The outcome was that Mark left them 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).
Paul was not intending to remain in Perga and Pamphylia. Plans would be formulating in Paul’s head 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.
14 But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and 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 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 rulers.
15 And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, “Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.”
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). Paul’s speech 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.
16 Then Paul stood up, and motioning with his 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.
17 The God of this people Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He brought them out of it. 18 Now for a time of about forty years He put up with their ways in the wilderness. 19 And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land to them by allotment.
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 behavior, 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.
In an amazing way and in a short time to compose his address please note the emphasis on our Holy God’s sovereignty, His dependability, His continual loving-kindness, 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 recognize 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 emphasizing 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 recognize that what he is talking about has not been done in a corner. Rather it is a final fulfillment 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.
The description Paul gives mirrors God’s constant graciousness to us 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, and puts up with our bad behavior 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.
In this section of Paul’s 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.
20 “After that He gave them judges for about four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. 21 And afterward they asked for a king; so God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. 22 And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’ 23 From this man’s seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Savior—Jesus— 24 after John had first preached, before His coming, the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘Who do you think I am? I am not He. But behold, there comes One after me, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to loose.’ 26 “Men and brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to you the word of this salvation has been sent. 27 For those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they did not know Him, nor even the voices of the Prophets which are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled them in condemning Him.
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 saviors. 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 providing for them an everlasting King.
28 And though they found no cause for death in Him, they asked Pilate that He should be put to death. 29 Now when they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb.
Paul wants to emphasize to all those in attendance that it was those who dwell in Jerusalem, along with their rulers, who did not recognize Him as The Messiah 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.
30 But God raised Him from the dead. 31 He was seen for many days by those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His witnesses to the people.
Having thus declared the resurrection, and emphasized the many witnesses, he now seeks to demonstrate it from the Scriptures.
32 And we declare to you glad tidings—that promise which was made to the fathers. 33 God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.’
So, Paul now tells them just as the angel Gabriel did some 40 years prior which the apostle Luke recorded in chapter 1 of his Gospel, “And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings that he and his companions have come to them 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 Jesus, just as was written in the second Psalm, ‘You are My Son, this day have I begotten you’ (Psalm 2.7).
34 And that He raised Him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, He has spoken thus: ‘I will give you the sure mercies of David.’
Those holy and sure blessings signified the promises in 2 Samuel 7, 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.
35 Therefore He also says in another Psalm: ‘You will not allow Your Holy One to see corruption.’ 36 “For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption; 37 but He whom God raised up saw no corruption.
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. 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.
A third Scripture which declared the resurrection, which linked with the second by association, was Psalm 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 It must be recognized 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 recognized 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 fulfillment 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.
38 Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; 39 and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.
As a result of what he has declared about Jesus certain things necessarily follow and should be heeded.
‘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 forever. Because He was the living embodiment of the suffering Servant in Isaiah 53, Who was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities.
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 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).
How is this justification and forgiveness achieved? The answer is -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.
40 Beware therefore, lest what has been spoken in the prophets come upon you: 41 ‘Behold, you despisers, marvel and perish! for I work a work in your days, a work which you will by no means believe, though one were to 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 was 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. 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?
42 So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached 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.
43 Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.
But aside from those who put off their response were many Jews and God-fearers 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 loving-kindness and mercy, His unmerited favor, receiving forgiveness and justification in His Name, and were being urged to continue in it.
44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God.
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.
If you are one who goes and shares the Good News then you would know 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. 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.
45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul.
The result of the ‘jealousy’ of the Jews was that, instead of again hearing Paul 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 recognize that a wholesale dispute carried out in an antagonistic manner would do no good to anyone. He had to recognize 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 had 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 realized before).
It was the first time that they had been faced with this stark choice, but they both recognized 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?
46 Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, 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.
47 For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
They were comforted by this one fact that this was what the Lord had commanded them in the Scriptures. 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.
48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed 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 recognized 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.
49 And the word of the Lord was being spread 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 the entire region. Like wildfire the word spread from town to town, from village to village and the assumption is undoubtedly that multitudes responded.
50 But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.
If only he could have cut off the story with verse 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. They would be able to come back later if they were ready to behave themselves.
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 worse was 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 organized 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.
51 But they shook off the dust from 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 Kingdom 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.
52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
While they were sad to part from each other, the realization and experience that guaranteed that the Holy Spirit was with them overrode everything. If He Is for us who can be against us? This is the filling 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. They were walking in the Spirit and enjoying God’s presence.
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 rise 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 his group, 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.