From Antioch and Back to Antioch: Acts 13, 14

Acts 13-14
IN the assembly at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers. These ministered to the Lord and fasted. While thus engaged, with hearts consecrated to the Lord, the Holy Ghost said— “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.”
Doubtless the command was given by the mouth of one of these prophets, for this reason called such; but the important fact to remark is that these two apostles were called by the Spirit Himself.
Then, under the impression of the seriousness of the call, having again fasted and prayed, they laid their hands on them and sent them away. And it was on a mission of the greatest importance. The gospel, and the revelation of the assembly, is now formally given to the Gentiles, they and the Jews (as believers) being united in one body on the earth and for the heavens. Let us consider a few particulars.
Already Paul had been called by the revelation and the authority of Christ, and more precisely by the revelation of a glorified Christ. Saul had not known Christ on the earth. On this we have spoken. He had been separated both from the Jews and from the Gentiles. As regards religion, he did not belong to the one class any more than to the other, but was united to a risen and glorified Christ. Henceforth he knew no man after the flesh, not even Christ—that is, as a Jew who awaited a Christ on the earth, according to the promises given to the nation. As a witness called by God, his starting-point was the glory—Christ in heavenly glory, the same who had suffered by the hands of those who were still persecuting His members on the earth. For him the cross was the end of his Adamic and Judaic life. He was dead to the world, to the flesh, to the law. He labored as an apostle of, and one who belonged to, a new creation.
Moreover, he drew neither his authority nor his mission from the apostles who preceded him; his mission did not even originate at Jerusalem, and was not dependent on the sanction of the apostles there, nor of the church at that place. His mission was given directly from God and from Christ. Personally called by Christ three years before, he is now sent by the Holy Ghost and departs from Antioch, a Gentile city, from the bosom of an assembly where the Gentiles had first gathered together. He did not go to or from another assembly. The superstition and legality of the Jews very nearly did so, but God did not permit it, as we shall see. His mission was nevertheless entirely independent; it was dependent on the authority of Christ alone, and on the power of the Holy Ghost. The apostle insists much on this point in the first two chapters of the epistle to the Galatians.
He desired to be absolutely independent of Peter and the others; and not only did he assert his having been sent from God Himself, but he was obliged to rebuke Peter, who, for fear of those who came from Jerusalem, had been unfaithful to the truth and to his own convictions. Paul was free from all men, subject to Christ, and in love the servant of all; a model and example for all Christians, as indeed he himself tells us. He fully recognized the mission of Peter to the Jews, as well as that of the other apostles; but though he preached the same gospel as they, his mission was directly from God Himself.
Barnabas and Saul are not only called but sent by the Holy Ghost. They depart therefore to Seleucia, and from thence sail to Cyprus. But here the state of the work is manifested—a new aspect of affairs. The Gentiles are disposed to listen. Judgment falls on the Jews for a time, on account of their opposition to the gospel, especially on its proclamation to the Gentiles. (See 1 Thess. 2:1616Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost. (1 Thessalonians 2:16)) Till now all the light that was in the world the Jews possessed; but, having rejected the true and perfect Light of the world, they had fallen into darkness, and hated the light, and all the more because jealousy filled their hearts. The apostle never denied their privileges. In Salamis he began by preaching in their synagogues. He did not give up the Jews till the Jews rejected the gospel.
Now John Mark, the son of her in whose house the disciples had met together to pray for Peter, was with them. The relationships of the apostles were still Judaic, for, though himself free, Paul profoundly loved his nation as the people of God. Having gone through the island, they find with the governor a certain Jew, a false prophet. The governor, a prudent man, desires to hear the word of God. The sorcerer Elymas, however, withstands the apostles, seeking to turn the deputy away from the faith. But if the hurtful power of the enemy was with the sorcerer, the power of God was with the apostles. They strike the false prophet with blindness. Such is a remarkable picture of the state of the Jews, and of the power of God shown in the propagation of the gospel. The deputy, astonished at the doctrine of the Lord, believes.
Saul now assumes the name of Paul, having (we are not told how) changed his Jewish name for a Roman one. The moment was a convenient one. The word literally signifies “to work;” but I do not think this is either the source or the intention of it.
After crossing the sea; John Mark leaves them. His relationship with Jerusalem was too strong for him, and the difficulties and dangers of the work of the apostles too great for his faith. Barnabas was his cousin; Cyprus, the country of Barnabas. Alas! how many there are whose faith depends on circumstances! They go on steadily while surrounded by these circumstances; but when the path leads to simple dependence on the faithfulness of God, their steps at once begin to flag.
The power of the Spirit of God creates His instruments, and adapts each for His work; and, set forth by the energy of the Spirit, they are sustained by His power in the midst of all circumstances, whatever they may be. We shall see that even Barnabas could not continue always with Paul, nor consent to know longer any man after the flesh. But it is sweet to see how, as I have already said, Paul in the end recognizes Mark as profitable for the ministry. (2 Tim. 4:1111Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry. (2 Timothy 4:11).) So Mark goes away, and Barnabas and Paul continue their journeying in strange lands, where the gospel is unknown.
Leaving Perga, they come to another Antioch (in Pisidia),where they enter into the synagogue of the Jews. Called on by the rulers of the synagogue to exhort the congregation (for the ministry was freer among the Jews than in modern Christian churches), they announce Jesus and the resurrection. Let us notice certain points in this address. As was generally the case, it was composed of facts. The apostle briefly relates the history of Israel till the time of David; and then lays down the two fundamental parts of the gospel—namely, the fulfillment of the promises, and the powerful intervention of God in the resurrection of Christ, by which He was shown to be the Son of God. In this way also He begins the Epistle to the Romans. All the narratives of the Acts depend on the mission given at the end of Luke. The subjects are repentance and remission of sins. For Israel the way had been prepared by John the Baptist. Then God, according to His promise, raised up (not raised from among the dead) a Savior.
But they of Jerusalem had accomplished all that the prophets had spoken, knowing neither the Savior nor the voice of the prophets, which, in crucifying Jesus, they had fulfilled. But God had raised Him from the dead, and He had been seen for many days by those who had accompanied Him from Galilee. Thus was the promise in Psa. 2 of the coming of the Son of God, the King of Israel, accomplished. But, we would add, as to the responsibility of Israel, it is lost on account of the rejection of Christ; yet on the part of God all the promises were firmly, established in His resurrection, according to Isa. 55:33Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. (Isaiah 55:3), and, as to His person, the prophecy of Psa. 16 is accomplished. All that the Jews were now to receive was to be given in pure grace. On this foundation the doctrine of the gospel is established. The remission of sins is announced, and justification from all things, from which the law of Moses could not justify. The basis of the new covenant has been laid, and the blood of that covenant shed, though the covenant itself be not yet established. It will be with Judah and with Israel in the last days, but founded on what has been already accomplished.
The apostles then exhort their hearers not to neglect the salvation which had been announced to them. The fundamental truths of the gospel ever, remain the same: the remission of all sins to believers; the person of Christ proved to be the Son of God by His resurrection; and the fulfillment of the promises made to Israel, though that people be for a time set aside. But this justification being for believers, it was for the Gentiles also.
The Gentiles then ask that these words may be preached to them on the next sabbath. The fame of this new doctrine quickly spreads, and nearly the whole city comes together to hear it. But the poor Jews moved with jealousy, cannot bear to be surpassed in religious influence, and that another religion than theirs should work on the Gentiles. Oh, poor human heart, always stronger in religious people! The truth it has already believed in (and believed in because received by many, themselves unconverted; and because, besides being the truth, it does them honor to profess it) does not put the heart to the test. But truth is always truth, even though it be not received by the many; it does put the heart to the test, and must be received only because God gives it.
The Jews now begin to contradict and to blaspheme. Paul at once takes his stand, and, acknowledging that the gospel ought first to be preached to the Jews, as heirs of the promises, openly declares that he turns to the Gentiles, taking the remarkable prophecy in Isa. 49 as the commandment of the Lord. There the Spirit presents Israel as the nation in which God should be glorified. But then the Messiah had labored in vain, for Israel was not gathered in. Still it was but a small thing to bring back the tribes of Israel; the Messiah should be a light to the Gentiles, and the salvation of God to the ends of the earth. On the ground of this declaration of the will of God, the apostles turn to the Gentiles.
Such was free grace, poured out on all, leaving the strict confines of Judaism, and directing itself to the whole world. But still the grace of God, mingled with faith, was necessary to make the truth enter the heart, so that it might be born of God. This is what happens here. The power of God accompanied the word, and “as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” The result is this: opposition on the part of the Jews, testimony throughout all the earth (except at Jerusalem, chap. 15.), and the operation of grace in the heart, whereby it is led to the acceptance of the gospel.
Already, on the first sabbath-day, many Gentiles and proselytes had followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. The Jews however, on account of their failure, are put aside. The spiritual energy of Paul now places him at the head of the work. Till this moment it has been Barnabas and Paul; henceforth we shall find Paul and Barnabas.
The gospel is shed abroad in all these regions; but the opposition of the Jews increases. They “stirred up the devout and honorable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts.” Similar scenes are enacted everywhere. By the permission of God (He however, still holding the reins in His own hand) the devotees of the old religion, and the devout women, with the chief men under their influence, seek to cast out the gospel. The apostles shake off the dust from their feet, in testimony of the justice awaiting those who rejected the grace and salvation of Gods “'And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Ghost.”
Such is the varied picture of the work of the gospel in the world, and the first public exhibition of its result, when announced in the face of the opposition of the old religion, which still exercised its power over unconverted hearts, in presence of the need and unbelief of mankind. And such, in spite of conflicts and difficulties, is the power of the gospel under the influence of the Holy Ghost. It is first preached to the Jews, because they had the promises; then it is given to the Gentiles, because all believers are justified by faith in Christ. A dead and risen Christ is for all. Opposition springs up from the hatred of the Jews, of the devout women according to the old religion, and of the principal men of the city. Judgment, though not executed, is pronounced; and then grace, working in the hearts of the believers, leads them to faith and joy in the presence of the Spirit, those who do not believe being left under judgment. Expelled from Antioch, the apostles prosecute their labors elsewhere.
At Iconium many believed, but the Jews renewed their efforts against the gospel. As God worked by the word, however, the apostles abode there a long time. But, the city being divided, and their adversaries desirous of doing them injury, they set out for Lystra and Derbe, where they preach the gospel, as also in the regions round about. At Lystra the power of God was manifested, by the hand of Paul in healing a cripple who had never walked. Here we find that the faith of the Cripple had to go with his restoration; in other eases this does not appear, the cure being effected in the power of God alone by him who was His instrument. (Chap. 14.)
The people, astonished by the miracle, call Barnabas Jupiter, and Paul Mercury, because he was the chief speaker. Barnabas (as Mercury was servant to Jupiter) is mentioned first in the narrative. The priest of Jupiter desires to do sacrifice with the people. The apostles, Barnabas and Paul, vexed in heart at seeing the purpose of the people, and far from desiring any honor for themselves, rend their clothes, and running in among the crowd to stop them, announce the one true God (not here salvation), who, till then, “had suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”
Such was the beautiful description of what God was, even among the Gentiles, and of what He gave to be known by them; I do not say that they did not know Him, for they preferred the imaginations of their own hearts, and the gods who favored their evil lasts. Nothing could be more horrible than what man showed himself to be, when God left him, on account of his perversity, to himself. What they did every day in their idolatry is unfit to be written. The account of it may be found in Rom. 1. The apostles seek to persuade the Gentiles of Lystra to give up their idols, and to believe in the one, true, and bountiful God, whom they had come expressly to declare to them, to lead them to His knowledge and to faith in Him. Scarcely, however, do they succeed in preventing the people from sacrificing to them.
But the Jews (not satisfied with having driven the apostles from. Antioch and Iconium, and moved by an animosity, grievous to the heart, against the gospel) come to Lystra also, and persuade the people, who, ignorant and fickle, now seek to stone those whom, shortly before, they had been ready to adore. Paul, the more culpable in their eyes because the more active in the work, is stoned, and, apparently dead, is dragged out of the city. Such is man—such the religious, when they have not the truth; Paul himself had been such—but sack also is the power of the gospel, when active in an unbelieving world.
But it was not in the thoughts of God that His servant should then perish. “As the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city; and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.” Much blessed in this city, he goes on his way and returns to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, from whence he had been expelled. Outrage and violence neither impede the work nor enfeeble the courage of the servants. When the Lord so wills it, they return in peace to the very places from whence they base been driven. It is beautiful to see the calm superiority of faith over the violence of man, and how God conducts the hearts of His servants. They submit to, or, if possible, avoid violence; but if the work requires it, God opens the door, and the laborers are there with it again.
Now another part of their work is here presented: They continue to preach the gospel; but it was now necessary to establish assemblies, and put them in regular order. (Ver. 23.) They give the disciples to understand that Christ was not come to bring peace on the earth which would meet with the opposition and enmity of the world, but that through much tribulation they must enter the kingdom of God. It was a warning for all times to make, men understand that persecution was not a strange thing. “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” not, however, all Christians. If a Christian conforms to the world, he will avoid persecution; but be loses the joy of the Holy Ghost and communion with God; he will be saved as by fire, and an entrance into the eternal kingdom shall not be abundantly ministered to him. If we walk with God, we shall not be barren in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus.
I speak thus, because for many the time of open persecution has passed away; but, if we are faithful, we shall most, surely experience persecution both from the world and from our own families. The world cannot tolerate faithfulness. If the Christian walk with the world, instead of winning the world to Christ, he himself gets at a distance from Him, and will lose (I do not say life, but) his spiritual privileges, his joy, and the approval of Christ; and his testimony is against Christianity. By his ways he declares that the friendship of the world is not enmity against God. The Christian when with the world is in no respects at ease; and when in the company of spiritual Christians his conscience reproves him because he is walking badly, and that which is a joy to them he cannot enter into. May all who are disposed, or in danger of being let, to mingle with the ways of the world give heed to this exhortation
The apostles chose elders for the assemblies in every city. It is neither “chose by common vote,” nor “ordained"; these are not the true renderings of the word; but “chose.” The same word is employed in 2 Cor. 8:1919And not that only, but who was also chosen of the churches to travel with us with this grace, which is administered by us to the glory of the same Lord, and declaration of your ready mind: (2 Corinthians 8:19), where the assemblies chose brethren to accompany Paul with the money collected for the poor of Jerusalem. The same word occurs again in Acts 10:4141Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. (Acts 10:41), where it is used in respect of God, and “chosen” is necessarily the sense. The apostles then chose elders for the assemblies. The epistle to Titus is another proof that the authority of the apostles was the source of that of the elders. I do not dwell here, however, on this question, though it is an important one, since the ordinary translation leads to putting the truth in a false light.
We have not in these days apostolical authority; and election made by the assembly is a thing unknown to the world. The authority descended from Christ to the apostle, and from the apostle to the elder. The word Bishop, in its present acceptation, is also unknown in the word. All the elders are really called bishops, as in Acts 20:17, 2817And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. (Acts 20:17)
28Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)
; no other bishops are found in scripture; and at the beginning Paul and Barnabas chose them for every assembly among the Gentiles, as afterward Paul sent Titus to establish them in every town in the island of Crete.
It is important here to observe that the apostle not only preached the gospel for the salvation of souls, which was his principal work, but that he united the converts in assemblies, to which he was afterward able to write; and that the church or assembly which he founded in every city was properly ordered and represented the universal assembly, of which those who in each place composed it were members (1 Cor. 12), with the promise that Jesus would be in the midst of them. But the wickedness of Christians, or of Christians so-called, and forgetfulness of Christ's return (Matt. 24:48-5048But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; 49And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; 50The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, (Matthew 24:48‑50)), have corrupted Christianity according to the prophecies of the New Testament (see 2 Tim. 3:1-51This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, 4Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; 5Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2 Timothy 3:1‑5); Jude 44For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 4); John 2:18, 1918Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? 19Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. (John 2:18‑19); Matt. 13:28-3028He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? 29But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. 30Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn. (Matthew 13:28‑30)). All is disorder, confusion, and corruption.
But we are here learning the primitive order, before the assembly became corrupted. John tells us that the last time has already come; and Paul, that “the mystery of iniquity doth already work” (2 Thess. 2:77For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. (2 Thessalonians 2:7)); Peter, that the hour has arrived to judge the house of God; Jude, that those who should be judged at the end had already crept in unawares.
The testimony is as clear as day, if we have ears to hear what is written in the word; that in the time of the apostles the corruption of the assembly of God had already commenced, and that, when the apostolic energy of Paul should be absent, evil from within and from without would inundate the church like a deluge.
Then, when they had prayed with fasting, and had commended them that believed to the Lord, the apostles go down by Pisidia to the sea-shore, preach in Perga, and pass on to Antioch. Here we see the true force of what had been done in chapter 13:3. They had been recommended to the grace of God, for the work they had now fulfilled. This is repeated in chapter xv. 40; so that Paul would have been twice ordained, if this had been ordination; and he would moreover have been an apostle ordained by the laity. This, however, be stoutly denies (Gal. 1:11Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;) (Galatians 1:1)); “an apostle,” he says,” not of men, neither by man.” The Judaisers sought to have it so, but he refuted it with all his power. These insisted that his mission was from the church at Jerusalem, and opposed him precisely because it was not. He was not willing to be an apostle at all, if not from God, and from Jesus Christ.
It is to Antioch they go, not to Jerusalem; they return to their starting-point, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God. The work of the Holy Ghost connects itself with Antioch, in its earthly relationship; the power is all from above. There the apostles recount the great things which God had done for them, and how He had opened the door among the Gentiles. “And there they abode a long time with the disciples.”
In the preceding narrative we find this history of the preaching of the gospel among the Gentiles by formal apostolic mission, the difficulties, the position of the Gentiles and of the Jews, the circumstances under which it was propagated in the world, and that independently of Judaism and of Jerusalem, a work in which Peter took no part. God worked mightily by him among the Jews; but, except that he was employed to introduce the first Gentile, he had nothing to do with them. He was the apostle of the circumcision, and with the other apostles formally gave up the work among the Gentiles to Paul and to Barnabas. (Gal. 2)