Chapter 10: We turn to the Gentiles
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.
An immediate response
The Jewish attenders leave the synagogue first, with Paul’s challenge to believe or to beware ringing in their ears. The remaining Gentiles then beg Paul to preach the same message to them on the next Sabbath: God is obviously working in their lives. He is also working in the hearts of ‘many of the Jews and devout proselytes’.1 These people, who are Jewish by birth or by conversion to Judaism, follow Paul and Barnabas after the synagogue congregation has dispersed. Perhaps they feel safer to approach these Christian teachers when the eyes of the other Jews are not on them. Paul and Barnabas do not miss their opportunity to speak with them about the good news of Christ crucified and risen again. They persuade them to ‘continue in the grace of God’. As you cannot ‘continue’ what you have not already started, it seems that these people have been so touched by God’s Holy Spirit after hearing the gospel that they have already put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. If by repentance and faith they have turned to Jesus, they have commenced their Christian lives: they now must ‘continue in the grace of God’. Conversion to Christ is evidenced by going on with Him. If He has worked in your heart, He will enable you to carry on trusting and serving Him.2 Paul, ‘knowing the terror of the Lord’, is always keen to ‘persuade men’3 to become converted to Christ. Now he is equally concerned, along with Barnabas, to persuade new Christians to continue with Christ. Thank God today for every Christian who is seriously involved in helping people both to know Jesus as their Saviour and to walk with Him as their Lord.
Great opportunity and opposition from jealous Jews
What an amazing effect is caused by the gospel when it is preached passionately and when God is at work. On the next Sabbath ‘almost the whole city’ comes ‘together to hear the word of God’. It seems the only publicity is provided personally by those who have been saved and spoken to by God on the first Sabbath. See what happens when even the youngest of Christians share their faith with others, and when people really seek God.
But opposition often accompanies blessing. Seeing the huge interest in the city in the gospel in a week, the Jews who are not blessed by hearing about the risen Lord Jesus are moved by envy and oppose and contradict Paul and Barnabas. These orthodox Jews even blaspheme! When the mask slips, Christ-less religion has little to offer.
‘We turn to the Gentiles’: boldness and blessing
Paul always tries to take the gospel message to the Jews first. God’s desire has always been to save both Jews and Gentiles. He not only wants His earthly people, the Jews, to be saved: He wants them to become ‘a light to the Gentiles, that’ they ‘should be’ His ‘salvation to the ends of the earth’.4 Jesus is ‘the light of the world’5 and brings out of the darkness of sin and condemnation all those who will turn their backs on their sins and receive Him as Lord and Saviour. He longs to bless both Jews and Gentiles. Although Paul’s ‘heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved’ by coming to Christ,6 God has commissioned him to take the news of forgiveness through faith in Jesus particularly to the Gentiles so they also can be saved.7 When Paul now announces that ‘we turn to the Gentiles’, he is not indicating that he is through with witnessing to Jews, but rather this is the time to concentrate on his God-given mission field of reaching Gentiles with the gospel of grace. The Jews’ opposition has led to their rejection of the everlasting life on offer through faith in Jesus Christ. That same opposition has persuaded Paul that the time to concentrate on the Gentiles has now come.
The Gentiles are thrilled to hear Paul’s bold words, which are addressed to the Jews: ‘we turn to the Gentiles’. How encouraging to hear of sinners who want to hear the only message that can save them from death, judgment and Hell and give them love, pardon and Heaven. That is what they have through the shed blood of the Son of God who still says to all, ‘Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’.8 In their gladness about this message, the Gentiles recognise the glory of God’s word. When someone trusts Christ, God’s word becomes a thing of glory to that person. God now gives eternal life to those who believe in Christ. As they come to know the Lord, they will find that God has graciously planned this for them.
It is unsurprising that with God at work and the good news of eternal life in Christ being taken freely and offered widely that God’s word is ‘being spread throughout all the region’. I wonder if Paul and Barnabas had even dreamt of this a week ago when they went to the Antioch synagogue for the first time!
Persecution, warning and persistence
More blessing again brings more opposition. The jealous Jews see the staggering results in the lives of Gentiles and other Jews and use their connections in the city to oppose Paul and Barnabas. They stir up the formidable partnership of ‘devout and prominent women and chief men of the city’ to persecute the two men, kick them out of Antioch, and expel them ‘from their region’. They obviously do not want the same ‘trouble’ of people turning to Christ in neighbouring cities, towns and villages. As they leave, Paul and Barnabas symbolically warn their persecutors of the danger of rejecting God’s gospel and of judgment. They shake the dust off their feet against them. Jesus told his twelve apostles to do this when intended hearers ‘will not receive you nor hear your words’.9 Jews did this when crossing from a Gentile area into Jewish territory, so the Gentile dust would not come into Israel. Now the two missionaries reverse that application and leave Antioch’s dust in Pisidia with their disobedient and lost Jewish persecutors. But they also leave there many new converts who will, no doubt, continue to speak for and live for Christ. The two men move on to Iconium, a multi-national and multi-cultural city about eighty miles to the south east.
Holy Spirit joy!
We read that the ‘disciples’ are ‘filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit’. But who is meant by ‘the disciples’?
Are they the two most mature and established disciples, Paul and Barnabas? Certainly they are ‘filled with joy’ at how the Holy Spirit has used the word of God to bring so many to Christ. They know they need to be ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ as they serve Christ. They cannot be effective in their own strength.
Or are the disciples who are ‘filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit’ the new disciples at Antioch in Pisidia? There is no greater joy than to come to a settled faith in Christ, as they have recently discovered. Everyone who believes in Christ receives the Holy Spirit,10 and every Christian is commanded to ‘be filled with the Holy Spirit’.11 Each day as they confess and forsake sin and yield to the Lord they will be ‘filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit’.
Or are there a few disciples already at Iconium, who have heard that Paul and Barnabas are coming? If so they will anticipate with joy the fellowship to come and the privilege of learning from these committed Christian leaders. They too will be seeking to be ‘filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit’ each day, and to stay faithful to the Lord who bought them and to make Him known to others. Are you ‘filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit’? Do you know Jesus?
Questions on Chapter 10
Acts 13:42–52 We turn to the Gentiles
A. How do you know that God is at work? What are the three main encouragements to Paul and Barnabas?
B. Contrast the blessings and the times of opposition: why do you think a time of opposition often follows a time of blessing?
Acts 13:44–51, Galatians 5:11, 2 Timothy 3:12, 1 Corinthians 16:9
C. If there is a connection between being filled with joy and being filled with the Holy Spirit what is it?
Acts 13:52, Galatians 5:22, 1 Peter 1:8, 1 Thessalonians 1:6, Ephesians 5:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:16, Philippians 4:4, Nehemiah 8:10