42 As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. 43 And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.
44 The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. 46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,
“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. 49 And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. 50 But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. 51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. – Acts 13:42-52 ESV
Paul and Barnabas enjoyed a surprisingly positive response from the little speech Paul had given in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. Unlike previous occasions, like the one when Stephen preached a similar sermon, but was met with anger and stoning; Paul and Barnabas were begged to come back the following Sabbath. The people were intrigued by all that Paul had to say and wanted to hear more. When the meeting broke up, Paul and Barnabas found themselves surrounded by a crowd of Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism, who had, most likely, been moved by Paul’s closing words:
38 “Brothers, listen! We are here to proclaim that through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins. 39 Everyone who believes in him is made right in God’s sight—something the law of Moses could never do. – Acts 13:38-39 NLT
They were intrigued. They had never heard anything like this before. And before parting ways with these highly inquisitive people, Paul and Barnabas urged them “to continue in the grace of God.” The Greek word translated as “continue” actually carries the meaning of abiding or remaining in something. Paul and Barnabas clearly recognized that the grace.of God had been extended to these people and encouraged them to remain in that grace – willingly open to what God may have to show them in the days ahead. One of the worst things these people could do was to harden their hearts and resist the good news that Paul and Barnabas were sharing. They had heard the message of salvation made possible through Christ’s death and resurrection, but they had not yet accepted it. But Paul and Barnabas knew that God was not done yet. They wanted their audience to remain open to what God was planning to do in their midst.
A week later, Paul and Barnabas made their way to the synagogue again. But this time they were met by a larger-than-capacity crowd, because virtually everyone in the city had shown up to hear what these two men had to say. Word had gotten out and the curiosity level was high. And, evidently, there were non-Jews or Gentiles in the crowd. They would not have been allowed into the synagogue, but they showed up anyway, hoping to catch a glimpse of these two strangers who were teaching about freedom from sin. But the Jews, angered by and jealous because of the amount of notoriety and popularity Paul and Barnabas enjoyed, began to push back and refute their teaching. Luke records that they slandered Paul, most likely hurling all kinds of false accusations against him, in an attempt to undermine his credibility among the rest of the Jews and the Gentiles.
But Paul and Barnabas refused to back down, instead speaking out boldly in their own defense by declaring that they were only doing what they had been told to do: Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, with the Jewish people. That is why they had originally showed up at the synagogue in the first place. But Paul let these incensed Jews know that, in rejecting the gospel message, they were turning their backs on eternal life. Not only that, they were freeing Paul and Barnabas to take the very same message of salvation to the Gentiles. And Paul used an Old Testament Messianic prophecy from the Book of Isaiah to make his point.
“I have made you a light to the Gentiles,
to bring salvation to the farthest corners of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:6 NLT
This was God speaking of His own Son, proclaiming that He had entered the world in order to bring the light of the gospel to the whole world, to the farthest corners of the earth. This meant that Jesus had come in order to die for all mankind, not just the Jewish people. In fact, in that same passage in Isaiah, the voice of the Messiah Himself is heard:
5 “…the one who formed me in my mother’s womb to be his servant,
who commissioned me to bring Israel back to him.
The Lord has honored me,
and my God has given me strength.
6 He says, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me.” – Isaiah 49:5-6 NLT
From the very beginning, Jesus had come to do far more than simply establish Israel as a great nation once again. He was not a Messiah who was going to come and set up an earthly kingdom and restore to Israel the glory and grandeur they had enjoy during the days of David and Solomon. That day would come, but in the far-distant future. First, Jesus came to die as a payment for the sins of mankind. He came to offer Himself as a sinless sacrifice, an unblemished lamb, capable of satisfying the just demands of a holy and righteous God.
The apostle John opens up his gospel with these sobering words:
9 The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. – John 1:9-13 NLT
Jesus came to the Jewish people. He was born a Jew, a descendant of King David himself. He was raised by Jewish parents and circumcised as an infant, just like every other Jewish boy. He grew up going to synagogue with His parents. He made the annual trips to the city of Jerusalem for the celebrations of Passover and Pentecost. And all during His life, He had kept the law of God perfectly, having never sinned or violated a single command of His heavenly Father.
But John tells us Jesus was rejected by His own. He was the very Light of God, the reflection of God’s own glory and character, but the Jewish people, for the most part, refused to see Him for who He was. They rejected the Light, preferring to live in darkness. John expands on this very thought later on in his gospel.
18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. 20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” – John 3:18-21 NLT
And we see this lived out on the pages of Luke’s account. The Jews who were verbally assaulting Paul and Barnabas, were rejecting the Light as expressed in the gospel message these two men had preached. Rather than rejoice in the news that they could have forgiveness for and freedom from their sins, they balked, fearing the very idea of having their sins exposed. They were self-righteous hypocrites, who would rather have men think well of them, than confess their sin so that God would forgive them.
Yet, when the Gentiles, who had gathered to hear what Paul and Barnabas had to say, heard them say that the gospel was now available to them, they were ecstatic. Luke writes that “they were very glad and thanked the Lord for his message; and all who were chosen for eternal life became believers” (Acts 13:48 NLT). Rather than reject the Light, they gladly received it, having the darkness in which they had lived for so long, illuminated by the glory of the grace of God. They came to the light and they were saved. Unlike many of the Jews in the crowd that day, the Gentiles willingly and gladly exposed their sinfulness to the bright light of Christ and found that they received forgiveness, cleansing, acceptance and salvation. Not condemnation. Not rejection.
But those living in darkness did what they naturally do: They tried to hide their sin by getting rid of the light. They stirred up others in the city, influential others, to come to their cause and oppose the teaching of Paul and Barnabas. And they were successful, inciting a mob to chase Paul and Barnabas out of town. But these two men simply did as Jesus had instructed the disciples when He had sent them out. “If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave” (Matthew 10:14 NLT). But when they walked out of the city of Pisidian Antioch, they left behind a vibrant group of energized Gentile believers, who Luke describes as “filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52 NLT). These men and women became lights in the midst of the darkness of Pisidian Antioch, and their presence would continue to have a cleansing, purging and transformative impact on that city for years to come.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.