Chapter 9: A crucial message
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.”’
Paul at another Antioch
Paul and his colleagues sail on to Pamphylia in Asia Minor. They come to Perga, a city under Roman control. Here John Mark leaves them to return to Jerusalem.1 They then arrive at another Antioch. This Antioch is not in Syria, the birthplace of the first Gentile church, but in Asia Minor ‘in Phrygia towards Pisidia’.2 It is the Sabbath Day, so they go to the synagogue. The synagogue service centres on and starts by reciting Deuteronomy 6:4, known as the ‘Shema’: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength’.3 commands us to speak of these matters “when you retire and when you arise.” From ancient times, this commandment was fulfilled by reciting the Shema twice a day: morning and night.’ From internet summary of Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin’s “To Pray as a Jew: A Guide to the Prayer Book and the Synagogue Service”] After this there is a time for prayers followed by reading from ‘the Law and the Prophets’. The first thirty-nine books of our Bible, the Old Testament, are exactly the same as ‘the Law and the Prophets’ though placed in a different order. After reading God’s word, teaching from it follows. This Sabbath, the leaders give an invitation to their guests to teach. Paul willingly accepts the invitation, and stands up.
Paul’s message (1): from Egypt to Christ
Paul motions with his hand. No boring lecture here! Paul has a vital message to share. He knows exactly how to address this Jewish synagogue. Jews are his main audience. But it contains Gentiles who have rejected pagan gods or worldly materialism, and sincerely seek for God. These ‘men who fear God’ want to hear God’s voice through His word being taught. So Paul’s approach to all is to use Old Testament Scripture to point to the Lord Jesus Christ, who fulfils all the Scripture.4 Paul starts with God’s saving Israel from slavery in Egypt. He goes on to its wanderings for about forty years in the physical and spiritual wilderness.5 He takes his hearers into Canaan’s promised land with its battles and ultimately the allocation of land on both sides of Jordan to Israel’s twelve tribes. Then he recalls about four hundred and fifty years when judges governed Israel until Samuel, the last judge and God’s faithful prophet, anointed Saul as Israel’s first king. King Saul rebelled against God and was replaced by David, a man after ‘God’s own heart’. Paul now leaps ahead from David to Jesus, because although Jesus—the King of kings6—came in flesh through David’s royal line, He is the divine Saviour from Heaven. Paul then zooms in to John the Baptist who prepared people for Jesus’ ministry and death by preaching that all must repent from sin. John insisted that he himself was not the coming Saviour: he was unworthy even to untie the sandals of Jesus, the eternal Son of God and God the Son.7
In this first part of Paul’s teaching, he shows that although the Israelites have been enslaved, wandering, battling, and disobedient they have been continually blessed and cared for by their merciful God. He points to great David’s greater Son, the Lord Jesus Christ as the ‘Saviour’ whom ‘God raised up’. Jesus accepts all sinners who repent and trust Him. He becomes their living Saviour. Today He still accepts anyone, Jew or Gentile, who will turn from sins to Him.
Paul’s message (2): the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead
In the second part of his address, Paul re-focuses on his mixed Jewish and Gentile audience. He now calls Jews ‘sons of the family of Abraham’, though all who believe in Christ are born again and become ‘sons of Abraham’ by faith.8 The seeking Gentiles are again identified as those who ‘fear God’. Paul now stresses the two main points of the gospel: the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. He heralds these twin truths everywhere, as when writing later to the church at Corinth, ‘I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures’.9 He says that this good news about how to be saved from sin and eternal judgment ‘has been sent’ to them and calls it ‘the word of salvation’. ‘Salvation’ means ‘the saving of the soul from sin and its consequences’.10 Paul argues that in resisting, condemning and killing Jesus Christ ‘those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers’, even though they ‘did not know Him, nor even know the voices of the Prophets which are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled them in condemning Him’. The very people who argued that Jesus did not fulfil the prophecies of Scripture actually proved He did by rejecting and condemning Him in accordance with those prophecies. They knew Jesus was innocent and guiltless yet ‘though they found no cause for death in Him, they asked Pilate that He should be put to death’. Wicked as their murderous intentions and acts were, they were the means through which ‘Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures’.
Paul then refers to the rock-solid evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. No-one in Jerusalem at that time—the people nearest the event geographically and in time—could argue with the facts. Jesus was taken down from the cross after those responsible for His death by their unjust and cruel murder ‘fulfilled all that was written concerning Him’ by their actions. Just read Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 to see how that is true. No one could deny that he was laid in a tomb which was empty after three days despite being sealed and heavily guarded. Did Jesus rise from the dead? He was seen by many first-hand credible witnesses.11 He was also seen for ‘many days’ by close witnesses, many of whom were persecuted or martyred rather than deny they had met the risen Lord.
Paul declares the ‘glad tidings’ that God has ‘raised up Jesus’, confirming Him as the eternal Son of God of Psalm 2:7. The Lord Jesus did not rot in a grave. Had that been so, His occupied tomb would have been found. No-one found His corpse, nor met a fleeing fraudster pretending to be Jesus, as some incredibly suggest to attempt to side-step the evidence. Jesus never suffered corruption: His dead body did not decay. It was raised incorruptible from death as prophesied in Psalm 16:10. King David was a great and godly king, despite sinning and needing God’s mercy and grace, but his dead body has decayed. He ‘saw corruption’. Jesus died to take our punishment on the cross, rose and lives forevermore!12 On the sure basis of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul now applies his message to his listeners.
Paul’s message (3): believe or beware
Paul’s message is personal and for all. He insists ‘through this Man [Jesus] is preached to you the forgiveness of sins’. To be forgiven means you have admitted and confessed your sins to God who has pardoned and cleansed you because Jesus has shed His blood for you.13 Forgiveness can only be by trusting the Lord Jesus who died as your substitute for your sins on the cross. Keeping God’s law, the Ten Commandments,14 cannot save you. You could not keep it perfectly from now on if you tried. Even if you could, you already deserve punishment because you have already broken God’s law. Yet ‘by Him [Jesus] everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses’. So believe in Christ and be ‘justified’ as well as forgiven. To be justified means to be counted as righteous through righteous Jesus, even though you are unrighteous. You are justified when you trust Him.
Paul ends on a warning: ‘Beware!’ Others who knew the message refused to repent and trust Jesus. Beware that you do not do the same! Jesus’ resurrection is ‘to declare it to you’ that it is true. His miraculous resurrection is marvellous, but do not ‘marvel and perish’. You can marvel at Christ’s death and resurrection but perish unless you repent and turn to Christ. He came to die as your sin-bearer so you ‘should not perish but have everlasting life’. Trust Him now.
Questions on Chapter 9
Acts 13:13–41 A crucial message
A. Imagine you are Paul in the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia. When you are invited to teach, what is the main message you want to get across? Who in your audience do you want to listen and understand?
Acts 13:13–15, 1 Corinthians 15:3–4, 1 Corinthians 9:19–22, Romans 10:1, Ephesians 3:8
B. Consider Paul’s message as a whole. How does he engage with his audience? What things does he say that will help his audience to listen to him and consider the gospel he wants to present?
C. In Paul’s application of his message to his hearers what does believing in Christ involve and lead to? Why must those who believe the facts of the gospel, such as the cross and the resurrection, but have not trusted Christ be very careful how they now respond?
Acts 13:38–41, Hebrews 3:7–13
- Acts 15:36–40 show that John Mark’s departure causes disagreement between Paul and Barnabas. Their relationship is finally healed, as we read in Colossians 4:10 and 2 Timothy 4:11. John Mark later serves well in the work of the gospel. ↩
- Quoted from the New Bible Dictionary, IVF, page 40. ↩
- The ‘Shema’ (Deuteronomy 6:4–5) was known and recited by all orthodox Jews. Jesus taught that this scripture together with Leviticus 19:18 (‘love your neighbour as yourself’) summarised the Ten Commandments. The first four commandments, towards God, are summarised by the Shema and the last six, towards people, are summarised by Leviticus 19:18. See the endorsement of Jesus in Mark 12:28–31.‘Undoubtedly the oldest fixed daily prayer in Judaism is the Shema. Note that the first paragraph [Deuteronomy 6:4–9 ↩
- Luke 24:27 ↩
- 1 Corinthians 10:1-11 ↩
- 1 Timothy 6:13–16 ↩
- Read John chapter 1 and Hebrews chapter 1, for example. ↩
- Galatians 3:6–9 ↩
- 1 Corinthians 15:3–4 ↩
- This is a definition provided on Wikipedia. ↩
- See, for example, 1 Corinthians 15:5–8. For fuller discussion of the evidence for the resurrection and its implications, read the DayOne publication, The Resurrection—the unopened gift written by the author of this book. ↩
- Hebrews 7:25 ↩
- 1 John 1:7–9 ↩
- Exodus 20:1-17 ↩