The action of the book begins to widen out more here in this chapter, as we begin to hear about the great missionary journeys. Saul/Paul and his companions undertake three significant journeys that are recorded for us by Luke, and here we see the beginnings of those journeys. We also encounter some significant moments along the way.
13:1 Luke records for us that there were five “prophets and teachers” in the church at Antioch. These can generally be understood as what we will commonly call pastors; they are leaders of the church in a certain place.
We don’t know if the church in Antioch all met in one place or whether there were various houses or other places, but on this occasion the five prophets/teachers were together in one place. It was quite a diverse group! Barnabas seems to have been Jewish by heritage, Simeon evidently a Jew (by the name) but is of dark complexion (which is what the name “Niger” means) so perhaps not from the middle east, Lucius a North African, Manaen a close friend of a political ruler (not Herod the Great, but Herod Antipas, the “tetrarch” (which means a ruler of a fourth of the land), and Saul a Jewish-Roman Pharisee!
12:2-3 In the midst of their worship life (recall Acts 2:42), including fasting, the Holy Spirit calls for Barnabas and Saul to be “set apart” for a specific kind of work. This is our understanding of vocation, or calling: that God calls us all into certain stations/offices in life that carry with them specific tasks.
The laying on of hands is a common New Testament act. It’s partly where the practice of ordination as we know it is from, though we use it in a more narrow sense than this. There is a physicality to the call of God, and it’s expressed here in the community of the Church in Antioch as the leaders commission Barnabas and Saul for this new calling.
13:4 They are led by the Holy Spirit. Exactly how, we’re not told, but the important part is that it is the Spirit leading them.
13:5 The standard “MO” (method of operation) for Christian ministry among Jewish people in the New Testament was to begin in the synagogues. We also have the note here that John Mark (also 12:25) is assisting them. He wasn’t one of the church leaders, but evidently was a valued assistant.
13:6 It might be surprising to find a description of someone as a “Jewish false prophet”. Here was a man, whose name Bar-Jesus means “son of Jesus/Joshua” (a rather ironic name, given what he was doing), practicing things forbidden by the Torah and turning people away from Yahweh.
13:7 A proconsul was a regional governor, somewhere between a mayor and a premier in our culture. It’s noteworthy again here that there’s a Roman official asking for God’s word to be heard (as in Acts 10-11).
13:8 Bar-Jesus was an Aramaic name, and he was also known as Elymas in Greek (we’re seeing a number of these instances of multiple names in this section). So this is the same man being addressed from 13:6-12.
13:9 Here, in keeping with a number of others, Luke tells us—in a rather low-key way, it seems, that Saul was also known as Paul. Saul was a Hebrew name, and Paul a Roman one. It makes sense that Paul would be used more often now, since the ministry is primarily to those of a non-Hebrew background. From this point on in Acts, Luke refers to Saul/Paul as Paul. The only exceptions are when Paul himself is recounting his conversion story; there he refers to himself as Saul, which again makes sense given that Jesus actually used that name in speaking to him (recall Acts 9).
13:10-12 Paul directly proclaims to BarJesus/Elymas the Law of God because of his sin, which in this instance carries an earthly consequence for a time. We might recall a parable to Paul’s own conversion; God speaks the Law to people in order to bring them to repentance, where they can hear and receive the Gospel for them.
This passage is primarily a sermon from Paul, pointing the people to Jesus. Again we see that context is important; this is in a Jewish synagogue, and Paul uses the history of the Old Testament as the starting place. The key “move” is verse 23, where Paul leads the hearers to Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s Old Testament promises. Notice that it’s all grounded in history, both ancient and recent. The Christian message is about something that actually happened in history.
13:15 “the Law and the Prophets” is one way of referring to what we know as the Old Testament.
13:16 “you who fear God” would be converts to Judaism. Paul is specifically addressing Jews who were so by heritage as well as others who became Jewish.
13:38-39 While the “centre” of this sermon is arguably verse 23, this is another key statement about the result of Jesus’ work for them: they are free in Him!
13:42-44 The response of many is to want to hear more, but others are offended. This is a typical response to the message of the Gospel; we’ll see another example of it in a few weeks (Acts 17). Evidently that next Sabbath it wasn’t only Jews but also many Gentiles who gathered to hear (ref. 13:48 a bit later on).
13:45-50 There is great tension throughout the New Testament between Jews and Gentiles, and this is another example of that. The Word comes first to Jews, and many receive it but many also reject it.
13:51 This recalls the commissioning of Jesus to the Twelve (Luke 9:3-5) and to the seventy (Luke 10:1-11). Here also we see the action of Luke-Acts continuing to widen out again; what was true of the Twelve in Israel is now also true with other apostles among the Gentiles. When the message is rejected, the missionaries move on with an enacting of judgment. Remember that judgment in the Bible is less like we tend to picture it (an active punishment) and more of a sense of “fine, have it the way you want”. This act of shaking off the dust is an appropriate one, then. A more recent cultural picture for us may be “throwing up their hands”.
13:52 The work of the Holy Spirit is another dominant theme in Luke-Acts. Notice that we have a “bookend” here in chapter 13 with mention of how the Spirit is at work. All of the Christian Church’s work is really the work of the Holy Spirit. The joy of the disciples may seem puzzling to us; who rejoices at being rejected? But we recall the words of Jesus that rejection will happen, and that—rather paradoxically—it is in fact a blessing (e.g. Luke 6:22-23, John 15:18-16:4 - notice here also in John how Jesus promises the Spirit to them).
At the same time, the disciples are rejoicing that many Jews and Gentiles have received God’s Word, which is being proclaimed to all. God continues to be at work, bringing grace through the message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins (recall Luke 24:47).