Thursday, 26 January 2023
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. Acts 13:46
The previous verse noted the jealousy of the Jews at the turnout that had come to hear Paul and Barnabas speak. With that, they began “contradicting and blaspheming.” Now, a reaction to that is stated by Luke beginning with the words, “Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said.”
The Greek contains an aorist participle and only one conjunction. More rightly, it reads, “And speaking boldly, Paul and Barnabas said.” They were not going to take any guff from the Jews who came against the good news of the gospel.
These Jews had heard what occurred, they had been shown right from Scripture that those events were prophesied in advance, and they had rejected what was presented to them. In response to that, both Paul and Barnabas united their voices in agreement, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first.”
Jesus’ ministry was to the house of Israel. He stated that explicitly in the gospels –
“These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: ‘Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. 6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’” Matthew 10:5, 6
That sentiment is repeated in Matthew 15 –
“Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.’
23 But He answered her not a word.
And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she cries out after us.’
24 But He answered and said, ‘I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’
25 Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!’
26 But He answered and said, ‘It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.’
27 And she said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.’
28 Then Jesus answered and said to her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed from that very hour.” Matthew 15:21-28
It was to Israel that Jesus first came. However, there are times when He ministered to the Gentiles, demonstrating that His word was both intended and effectual for the Gentiles. But there was a priority to be given to Israel as the stewards of the law and the bearers of the name of the Lord. After His crucifixion, He made the inclusion of the Gentiles in the continued ministry explicit –
“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.” Matthew 28:18-20
As the apostles went forth, they followed this same pattern, first going to the Jewish people as directed by Jesus in Acts 1:8 –
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
That set pattern has been meticulously followed in Acts. In two separate instances in Acts 8 and 10, the message has gone directly to Gentiles. But the pattern has been adhered to as the gospel has gone from Jerusalem then Judea, and to Samaria. Eventually, it continued to go further as the apostles have gone out to confirm what the Jews of the diaspora from the various nations saw in Acts 2. The idea of the gospel going to the Jews first is also stated by Paul in Romans 1:16.
This is what Paul and Barnabas have done. They first presented the word to the Jews in Antioch of Pisidia. They will continue to do this as they go from town to town, first seeking out the synagogue. However, in Antioch, those in the synagogue have rejected the word and so Paul and Barnabas continue, saying, “but since you reject it.”
The words are plainly spoken to the Jews so that there can be no misunderstanding. In other words, there is probably as much of an implied questioning of them as there is a statement of fact rendered against them, “You have rejected the word. If we are incorrect about this, speak up now.” With no anticipated argument otherwise, the apostles continue, saying, “and judge yourselves.”
The Jews have rendered their own decision against themselves. Just as was the case in Jerusalem at the crucifixion of Jesus –
“When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.’
25 And all the people answered and said, ‘His blood be on us and on our children.’” Matthew 27:24, 25
The nation had called for the judgment of God to be brought against itself because it had made the judgment against itself. Paul and Barnabas are not in Antioch to convert the nation of Israel but to convince those Jews who will accept the gospel to separate themselves from the nation. These particular Jews had rejected their advances and had judged themselves “unworthy of everlasting life.”
The offer was made, it was that of forgiveness of sins through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and – if accepted – it would have moved them from condemnation to salvation. In being saved, they would have received everlasting life. In rejecting this salvation, their condemnation remained, just as Jesus said –
“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” John 3:18-21
In having decided this, there was no longer any point in continuing with evangelizing these Jews. But because there was a giant crowd of Gentiles there who were hungry to receive the message, Paul and Barnabas next say, “behold, we turn to the Gentiles.”
They had fulfilled their obligation to tell the good news of Jesus to the Jews first. They had presented Scriptural evidence and the historical account of Jesus’ works to them. They had, during their presentation, given them the simple gospel of salvation. Despite their efforts, their message was rejected. And so, to continue with the work directed for them to do in Matthew 28, they would continue speaking their message in Antioch to the Gentiles.
Their words now do not mean, “We only turn to the Gentiles from now on.” Rather, their main focus of attention will be the Gentiles who are so willing to hear their words. When they get to another city, they will again go directly to the synagogue and begin the process again, speaking to the Jews first and then to the Gentiles.
Life application: As can be easily determined from this passage, the gospel spoken to the Jews is the same one that has been (and will continue to be) spoken to the Gentiles. The difference between the ministry of Peter and that of Paul is one of focus, not content. They both have the same message, but Peter’s focus was on the Jews, particularly within the borders of Israel, but also in the areas where he traveled (see Galatians 2).
Paul, on the other hand, was skilled in international matters, he was a citizen of Rome, he spoke many languages (1 Corinthians 14:18), and so forth. Therefore, he was selected by Jesus to personally go further than just to the Jews. Peter was not without interaction with the Gentiles, as was minutely detailed in Acts 10, but the primary focus of his ministry was to the Jews.
Understanding this simple precept, and accepting it at face value, will save the student of the Bible from being drawn into truly devious teachings that have crept into the church. Such teachings attempt to divide the offering of Jesus into separate categories with separate messages. These doctrines are heretical because they introduce a false gospel, which is no gospel at all. Be careful to guard yourself against such insidious teachings.
Jesus! It is all about Jesus. The message is for all the world, and it is the only saving message. Hold fast to the gospel that has been offered to Jews and to Gentiles for the saving of the soul and for obtaining everlasting life.
Lord God, how good it is to share in Your offering of Jesus. To think that we were on the path to destruction, and You intervened to bring us back to Yourself. All we need to do is simply believe the word in order to be saved. Thank You for this simple and glorious message of reconciliation. Amen.
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