Chapter 13

13:1-4 The first Mission from the Church in Antioch

We have noted Luke's special interest in the church of Antioch (11:20-22). Now he describes the sending out of their first overseas missionaries.

13:1 Large numbers had become disciples (Christians) in Antioch (11:26). In addition to Barnabas and Saul there were other prophets and teachers (see Romans 12:6-7, 1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11). The distinction seems to be that "Those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation" (1 Corinthians 14:3). This would be part of a regular worship service. Barnabas for example had a gift of encouragement (4:36) and exhortation (11:23). Paul's teaching was probably more formal in a place appointed for that purpose, as in Ephesus (19:9). Simon was called Niger (Latin word meaning black) probably because he was dark- skinned from North Africa. He was almost certainly the Simon of Cyrene whom Luke identified by name as the one who had to carry the cross for Jesus (Luke 23:26).

13:2 It seems that it was the group of prophets and teachers who were worshiping and fasting. The Holy Spirit must have spoken through a prophet, and the others evaluated the prophecy and confirmed that this was God's will (as in 1 Corinthians 14:29). Jesus condemned fasting as a means of impressing others: it should be done in secret (Matthew 6:16-18). But in his Gospel Luke included Jesus' other words about fasting after the resurrection and ascension (Luke 5:34-35, quoted from Mark 2:19-20). Putting these together, we might guess that the prophets and teachers decided to miss a meal or two to give themselves time to pray about the future direction of this rapidly growing church. The net result was that they decided to release their most effective teachers and prophets for this outreach overseas.

13:3 Having accepted this new direction, there was a further time of fasting and prayer (and probably gathering of the needed funds) before they laid hands on Barnabas and Saul to set them apart for this ministry. There was a laying on of hands for the appointment of elders (6:6, 14:23, 1 Timothy 5:22), and the same method was used for appointing a missionary teacher (1 Timothy 4:13-16, 2 Timothy 1:6). The laying on of hands was also used in prayer for healing (Mark 5:23, Acts 28:8, blessing children (Mark 10:16), and for the Holy Spirit to empower a community (8:17, 19:6). We might compare a handshake in the completion of a business deal. Something real happens, but it is not a physical means of transferring grace or energy.

13:4 The church was centered in Antioch, the main trade and administrative center, and Seleucia was the harbor 12 miles away. From there it was a two day sea journey to Cyprus.

13:5-12 The Mission to Cyprus

13:5 Salamis was the main commercial city on the eastern coast of Cyprus. There had long been a large community of Jews there, and here Luke tells us they gathered in several synagogues. John Mark from Jerusalem was their assistant to make travel arrangements, and he may have carried scrolls or codex copies of his Gospel (2 Timothy 4:13, see notes on 12:12, 25) for the churches they hoped to establish.

13:6 The hundred miles journey across the island of Cyprus was probably along the southern shore (avoiding delays and detours in the central mountains). We do not know the names of small cities along the way (corresponding to present-day Larnaka and Limassol), and probably Barnabas and Saul passed them by if they had no Jewish synagogue. In Paphos, the Roman capital of the island, they met a religious leader named Bar-Jesus (son of Joshua), who was a magos (wise man, priest, astrologer, as in Matthew 2:1). Luke calls him a false prophet because as a Jew he should have had nothing to do with magic.

13:7 Bar-Jesus had the missionaries taken to Sergius Paulus, the Pro-consul (anthupatos means the head of a Roman province, as was Gallio in Achaia, 18:12). Luke describes Sergius Paulus as an intelligent man who was eager to hear the Word of God. He probably had a copy of the Greek Old Testament translation (LXX) in his library (see comment on 10:1-2).

13:8 The magos was called by the Greek name Elumas (perhaps from the Arabic 'alim which means a wise man). He could see that Sergius Paulus was interested in what the missionaries were announcing, and he was in danger of losing his influence.

13:9 Here for the first time Luke gives Saul his Roman name Paulos (the same name as the pro-consul, who would immediately have Paul identified as a Roman citizen). He was suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit for this tough encounter (as was Peter in 4:8, and Stephen in 7:55).

13:10-11 Paul confronted Bar Jesus because he had let himself come under the influence of the the devil. (Jesus used similar strong language with Peter in 8:20-23). As opposed to making the crooked paths straight (Matthew 3:5) this false prophet was making God's straight paths crooked. The blindness is temporary, as in Paul's conversion (9:8-9). So Luke may be suggesting that the magos was chastened and brought to faith. He had to be led by the hand (as in 9:8).

13:12-13 This finally convinced the Pro-Consul, and he probably received baptism, which resulted in the establishment of the church in Paphos (the many Greek Orthodox congregations in western Cyprus trace their history back to this event). There was a two day sea voyage from Paphos to Perga, where John Mark took a ship back home (12:12) or to Antioch (15:37). Paul was upset by this desertion (15:37-38), but Barnabas gave Mark another chance, and took him back to strengthen the churches they had established in Cyprus (15:39). Paul later realized Mark's value (Colossians 4:10, 2 Timothy 4:11). Eusebius recorded that Mark became the first presiding Bishop of the church in Alexandria (Ecclesiastical History 2:16, 24).

13:14-52 Paul and Barnabas establish a church in southern Turkey

Antioch in Pisidia was an important Roman colony in the province of Galatia on the main highway from Ephesus to Tarsus and on to Syria. Josephus, the Jewish historian, said 2000 Jewish families had previously moved there (Antiquities 12:3-4). But Luke mentions only one synagogue, and as usual Paul began his work there (13:5, 14:1, 17:1-2, 10, 18:4, 19). After a brief outline of Old Testament history to the time of David, Paul mentioned John the Baptist's prophecy of Jesus, and spoke of the cross and resurrection (as Peter had done in 2:23-24, 3:13-15, 10:38-40). He then gave the good news of forgiveness. The next sabbath day a huge crowd gathered, and the Jewish leaders of the synagogue opposed the message. Paul and Barnabas turned to the Gentiles in the city and formed them into a Christian synagogue. Which resulted in the missionaries being expelled from the city.

13:14 From the seaport it was a six day walk inland to the capital city, and as usual Paul and Barnabas began in the Jewish synagogue with the aim of planting a Christian church there.

13:15-16 Recognizing that Paul was a visiting rabbi, the elders of the synagogue invited him to preach. He addressed both the Jewish members and the Gentile "God-fearers" who attended (see notes on 10:1-2, 13:16, 26, 14:1, 16:14, 17:4, 12).

13:17-21 Paul begins by referring to the God "of this people," pointing back to the first chapter of Genesis, which the Gentiles knew from the Greek Septuagint translation (LXX). He also connected with the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. Then he outlined the story from the books of Joshua to the choice of Saul as king in 1 Samuel.

13:22-23 He pointed out that Jesus was from the line of David ( his genealogy was later given in Matthew 1:1-16, and Joseph had accepted Jesus as his legal heir (Matthew 1:20). Jesus' claim to be the Messiah from the line of David could easily have been disproved from the census documents in Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-4), but his title was never questioned.

13:24-25 As Peter had done (10:37, 11:16) Paul reminded his Jewish hearers of John the Baptist's prophecy of the Messiah's coming (Matthew 3:11, see followers of John the Baptist in 19:2-6).

13:26 Paul then made his appeal both to the Greek speaking Jews in the synagogue and the Gentile "God fearers" (see note on 10:1-2, 13:16), and calls both groups "brothers."

13:27-28 He explained that Jesus was crucified because the religious leaders had failed to understand the words of the prophets concerning the coming Messiah. As a result they had Jesus unjustly killed by the Roman Governor.

13:29-31 The Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in detail, and Jesus' corpse was laid in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb (Matthew 27:57-60). Meanwhile Jesus had immediately received his resurrection body (seeMatthew Commentary 27:50-53). His disciples met him on two consecutive Sundays in Jerusalem, and a week later in Galilee (John 20:19, 26, 21:1). He also appeared on the mountain to give them the great commission (Matthew 28:16-20), and then again back in Jerusalem at a convention of 500 people (1 Corinthians 15:6).

13:32-37 Paul then (perhaps as a response to questioning) reinforced the good news of his message by quoting from Psalm 2:7, from a Davidic prophecy from Isaiah 55:3, and from Psalm 16:10. The point was that David died and was buried, but the resurrection body of Jesus continued and appeared to the disciples over a forty day period (as in 13:31).

13:38-39 There were rituals that pointed to forgiveness in the Old Testament (as in Leviticus 4:1-5:19, 23:26-28). But there were so many rules and provisos that personal forgiveness was by no means certain. Jews no longer offer the animal sacrifices for forgiveness, but they still mark the solemn Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) hoping that their penitence will be sufficient. The prophets pointed to the possibility of forgiveness (e.g. Isaiah 1:18, 43:25, 44:22, Jeremiah 31:34), but for this to become a certainty we needed the coming of the Messiah in person. During his life he assured ordinary people of his acceptance and forgiveness. And in his death he absorbed in himself the sin of the world. But it was his resurrection appearances that assured us that he still loves and forgives Peter who denied him, and all the worst that humans can do to him.

13:40-41 But there is a warning. What excludes us from forgiveness is scoffing at the love of God, assuming that one does not need forgiveness, and deliberately rejecting what the Messiah has done for us (the closest text to this in the Old Testament seems to be Habakkuk 1:5, but Luke will also make the same point from Isaiah 6:9-10 in Acts 28:25-27).

13:42-43 Paul and Barnabas were asked to explain more about this good news in the synagogue the next week. But some Jews from the congregation and proselytes to Judaism followed the apostles to their residence to hear more.

13:44-45 For the next Saturday gathering of the synagogue a huge crowd from the city gathered to hear the message. This made the synagogue leaders jealous. "Why don't they come out to our regular synagogue services?" So they blasphemed by speaking against Jesus as Messiah, and they fiercely contradicted Paul's message.

13:46-47 God's plan was that the good news should first be preached to the Jewish people who had been prepared for it (Matthew 10:16, Acts 1:8, Romans 1:16). But when they rejected it Paul and Barnabas announced that they would stop teaching in the synagogue, and they would form a new Gentile congregation (as Paul did in Corinth, 18:7-8, and in Ephesus, 19:8-9). The reason for this outreach to Gentiles was based on the text from Isaiah, the implications of which Simeon had seen before he saw the baby Jesus (Luke 2:32, Isaiah 49:6, see Paul's own call, Acts 9:15, 22:21, 26:17-18).

13:48-49 The forming of a new Gentile congregation in the church of Antioch was a great joy and relief from burdensome rules for the large number of non-Jewish people connected with the synagogue. We should not take "destined for eternal life"to mean that God chooses some for heaven, and the rest are consigned to eternal damnation. Luke has already made clear how much free choice is involved (13:27, 13:40, 45-46). As a result of the formation of one or more congregations suited for non-Jews, there was a huge growth of the church in Antioch and its surrounding districts (as in 19:10, 1 Thessalonians 1:8).

13:50-53 Members of the Jewish congregation had influence with the wives of business leaders and government officials, and they had Paul and Barnabas expelled from the city. But the new congregation(s) were happy in the faith and were filled with the Holy Spirit. This is not an individual filling of the Spirit for a task (4:8, 7:55, 13:9), but the forming and empowering of new congregations (see 8:17, 11:15-17, as explained in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13).

Chapter  14