Paul’s Message in Pisidian Antioch
DIG: From Cyprus to Pisidian Antioch is about 350 miles by sea and land. What does their willingness to travel so far show about Paul and Barnabas? Compare 13:5 and 15. Why are they using this strategy? What is significant about Paul’s audience? From verses 17-23 list all the things Paul says God has done. How do God’s actions prepare the way for Paul to speak about Jesus in verse 23? Compare verses 22-23 and 36-37 with Romans 1:3 and Acts 2:29-31. What is the connection between David and Yeshua? Why is this so important to Paul and Peter? What things about Messiah is Paul emphasizing by his use the three quotes in verses 33, 34 and 35? The resurrection is mention four times in verses 30-37. How does the resurrection confirm the meaning of these quotes? In verses 38-39, what does Paul say is the central meaning of the resurrection for his listeners? Compare verse 39 with Romans 3:20-24 and 8:3-4. From these verses, how would you explain what Paul means by being justified? Why would Paul end his sermon with a warning of judgment from Habakkuk 1:5?
REFLECT: If you were to emphasize one central truth about the gospel, what would it be? What difference would it make to your faith if there was no Easter to celebrate, but only a Good Friday to remember? How do you think Paul would respond to a modern-day skeptic who felt Jesus was a noble, but misguided, martyr? What role would the TaNaKh play in his answer? How would knowing the TaNaKh help you to understand and share your faith better? What kind of opposition have you faced because of your faith? How do you usually respond to opposition? Does it make you stronger? Why? Would it be tougher for you to face opposition from community or from your family members? Why? Who are some of the people that have had the greatest influence on you? How have they earned the right to speak into your life? What qualifies them to be respected and reliable?
It is quite possible that the reason Barnabas and Paul went off to Pisidian Antioch, which was not necessarily the most obvious choice for the next place to evangelize, is that Sergius Paulus, who had family connections in that region, suggested it. Perhaps he even wrote a letter of recommendation to aid them along the way. Therefore, the contact with Sergius Paulus is the key to the following itinerary of the First Missionary Journey.284
The arrival: Although Luke provides no information regarding how long the trio remained on Cyprus, they apparently experienced no difficulty in finding a ship to take them to the Asia Minor coast. Setting sail from Paphos, and traveling 180 miles by water, Paul’s company came to Perga (the capital) in Pamphylia (modern day Turkey), given over to the worship of Atriums. This city was located in Asia Minor and is not to be confused with Antioch in Syria, from which the missionaries set out on their journey. Perga, the metropolis of the region, could be reached by traveling seven miles up the Cestrus River from the Mediterranean port of Attalia, and then going about five miles west by foot. At that point John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem. The Bible does not tell us why Mark chose to leave them at this important time. However, what is clear that Paul did not consider his leaving a good reason. Later, Paul refused to take Mark with himself and Barnabas on a return visit to Syria and Cilicia because he felt that Mark had deserted them in Perga.
Apparently Paul and Barnabas did not preach in Perga at that time, but they did on their way back to Syrian Antioch in 14:24-25. But going through the low swampy lands of Pamphylia, a region through which Paul passed on his way to Pisidian Antioch, he contracted an oriental eye disease called ophthalmia (see the commentary on Galatians, to see link click Bp – Until Messiah is Formed in You). So, they passed on from Perga and came to Antioch of Pisidia, about a hundred miles north on foot (13:13-14a). It was a rugged and dangerous trail across the Taurus Mountains to the city of Antioch, Pisidia, on a plateau 3,600 feet above sea level. Antioch was a common town name. This was one of sixteen Antioch’s in the ancient world that were established by Seleucus Nikator to honor his father, Antiochus.285 Historians point out that Antioch of Pisidia was actually in the province of Phrygia. This has been confirmed by two inscriptions. But Antioch was also located very near Pisidia. Since Pisidia was the more prominent and well-known region, it was common to distinguish it as Pisidian Antioch.286 It had a very large Jewish population. Josephus notes that two thousand Jewish families lived in the area (Antiquities 12.3.4).
After their difficult trip was over, Paul and Barnabas arrived in Pisidian Antioch. In what was to become the pattern for Paul’s ministry, they entered the synagogue on the Shabbat and sat down. The primary and seminal element in the synagogue was scripture reading – prayer being a secondary activity. The most important piece of furniture was the ark, containing the Torah scrolls. It is likely that most synagogues possessed the whole Torah, together with the psalms and the Prophets. The Torah reading was conducted in Hebrew, accompanied by a vernacular translation. Paul and Barnabas probably communicated with their various audiences in Greek. They synagogue possessed no specific person appointed as a teacher and the “sermon” delivered on Shabbat was not considered to be a true part of the service. After the reading of the Torah and the Prophets, the synagogue leaders sent word to them, giving them a polite invitation to speak from the text, saying: Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, speak (13:14b-15). If a rabbi like Paul was present he would presumably have been asked to address the people. They were held in high esteem. In fact, people were required to rise in his presence and to give him special consideration in his efforts to earn a living. As a Levite (4:36-47), Barnabas would normally have been eligible to read the second portion (Git. 5:8).287
After the reading of the Torah and the Prophets: Then as now, on Shabbat, there was added to the service a reading from the Torah (the Five Books of Moshe) and the haftarah (or conclusion), which consisted of a reading from the N’vi’im (the Prophets) or the K’tuvim (the Writings). Following this would be a drashah (meaning investigation, that is, a teaching or sermon), depending on who was available to teach or preach. Hospitality often dictated offering this honor to a visitor, if he was competent (see Luke 4:16-17). Obviously both Paul and Barnabas were competent, but Paul, taking the lead, was the one who spoke.
The message: So Paul, standing up on the bema seat, and motioning with his hand, to quite everyone down and get their attention, said: Men of Isra’el and God-fearers, which would have both groups who would be at the synagogue on a typical Shabbat, listen (13:16). Paul’s sermon in this synagogue illustrates how he went about presenting the gospel to Jews. As with Stephen (see Aw – Stephen’s Testimony to the Sanhedrin), the appeal is through the history of God’s dealings with the people of Isra’el. Yeshua is presented as the Son of David, a term everyone knew to mean the Messiah.
God-fearers: Besides Paul’s conviction that it was right to present the gospel first to the Jew, he also knew that it was in the synagogues where he would find Gentiles most likely to be responsive, since “proselytes at the gate” (see Bb – An Ethiopian Asks about Isaiah 53) were already interested in the one true God. One aspect of communicating the gospel consists of trying to determine which people are most likely to respond to it. Paul wasted little time in reaching people open to it. In this regard the Jewish community is not different from Gentile communities: there is a full spectrum of receptiveness, from people stubbornly opposed to those whose hearts are waiting and aching for the Good News of ADONAI.288 Here’s the heart of Paul’s sermon in a few sound bites:
Sound bite number one. Isra’el has always been the object of God’s special care. The God of this people Isra’el chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with an outstretched arm (the phrase the TaNaKh uses repeatedly to describe God’s judgment on those who rebel against Him and His people Isra’el) He led them out of there. This was the exodus, then for about forty years He put up with them in the wilderness. And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He gave their land as an inheritance to the Israelites – all of this took about 450 years, starting with the birth of Isaac and ending with the actual conquest of the Land by Joshua (13:17-20a).
Sound bite number two. God gave Isra’el Canaan as their homeland and great leaders – judges, kings, especially King David, a man after God’s own heart. After that, He gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. Then, after the judgeship of Samuel, they asked for a king, and God gave them Sha’ul, son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. The TaNaKh does not state how long King Sha’ul reigned, but Josephus said forty years in his Antiquities of the Jews 6:14:9. After removing him, He raised up David to be their king. He also testified about him and said, “I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do My will” (13:20b-22). The point of this historic review is that ADONAI had prepared for the coming of the Messiah.
If you look up all the times God speaks about meditation in the Bible, you will be amazed at the benefits He has promised to those who take the time to reflect on His Word throughout the day. One of the reasons ADONAI called David, “a man after My heart,” is that David loved to reflect on God’s Word. He said: O how I love Your Torah! It is my meditation all day long (Psalm 119:97). Serious reflection on God’s truth is a key to answered prayer and the secret to successful living.289
Sound bite number three. God promised to send David’s descendant to rescue both the Jewish children of Abraham and Gentile friends of God. Paul deals with the messiahship of Yeshua. Psalm 89:27-30 declares that the first-born, son’s seed shall be established forever. The Messiah will be the first-born son to God, and will be elevated as eternal King. But how can a human king have eternal seed? Paul, reflecting on the words of Psalm 89 wrote: From David’s seed, in keeping with His promise, God brought to Isra’el a Savior – Yeshua (13:23). The reason that the seed is eternal is because the source of the seed is eternal Himself! In addition, it is clear that the source of the seed, and of the Messiah, is eternal and heavenly (Second Samuel 7:13-16).290 So in the past YHVH prepared for the coming of the Messiah, in the present the Messiah has come, and God has sent the Messiah to Isra’el.
Before His coming, John had proclaimed an immersion of repentance to all the people of Isra’el (see the commentary on The Life of Christ Be – John the Baptist Prepares the Way). As John was completing his service, he said: What do you suppose me to be? I am not He. John clearly denied being the Messiah, but responded to his Lord right away. He prepared the hearts of others toward the coming Messiah because he saw Yeshua for who He really is. He knew Jesus was more than a great teacher, He was the Lord God we must all answer to. But behold, One is coming after me, whose sandal I’m not worthy to untie (13:24-25). This statement shows that John knew Jesus was high above him. In that day, it was not uncommon for a great teacher to have disciples follow him, and it was expected that the disciples would serve the teacher in various ways. This arrangement came to be abused, so the leading rabbis established certain things that were too demeaning for a teacher to expect of his disciple. It was decided that for a teacher to expect his disciple to untie the strap of his sandal was too much; it was too demeaning. Here, then, John insists he wasn’t even worthy to do this for his Lord and Savior.291
Paul deals with the death and burial of the Messiah, two of the three points of the gospel. And emphasizing their Jewishness, he said: Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham and those among you who are God-fearers, it is to us Jews the message of this salvation has been sent. Then he dealt with the death of Messiah (13:23-26).
Sound bite number four. The people and their leaders in Jerusalem failed to recognize the Messiah. He was crucified and buried, but ADONAI raised Him from the dead. Everything YHVH promised Isra’el is fulfilled in the resurrected Yeshua. For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers were responsible for His death– not recognizing Him or the sayings of the Prophets that are read every Shabbat – fulfilled these words by condemning Him. They did it out of ignorance, but their ignorance did not absolve them. Though they found no charge worthy of a death sentence, but in spite of the lack of evidence, they nonetheless asked Pilate to have Him executed. When they had unintentionally carried out all that had been written about Him, the Jewish leaders wanted Him taken down from the tree (Greek: wood) before sundown and laid in a tomb (13:27-29). It should be noted how often Jews avoid using the term “cross,” which is offensive to them. Even today in Jewish evangelism the term tree is used which is less offensive.292
Fourthly, Paul deals with the resurrection of the Messiah, the third point of the gospel, “But (Greek: de, is emphatic here). But God raised Him from the dead! For many days He appeared to those who had come up from the Galilee to Jerusalem, those who knew Him best are now His apostles to the people” (First Corinthians 15:6). The Paul applied the truth of the resurrection. And we proclaim to you Good News – the promise of the Messiah, made to the fathers, has arrived! For God has fulfilled this promise to the children – to us – by raising up (the birth) Yeshua, as it is also written in the second psalm:
You are My Son.
Today I have become Your Father (13:30-33).
Luke quotes the TaNaKh almost always in a form either corresponding to the LXX or close to it, and not according to the Hebrew Masoretic Text. Here Psalm 2:7 is quoted verbatim from the LXX. And indeed, the rabbis took this to be a messianic Psalm.
But since God raised Messiah up from the dead, never to return to decay. Meaning Messiah will never die again. He is the firstfruits of the First Resurrection (see the commentary on Revelation Ff – Blessed and Holy are Those Who Have Part in the First Resurrection). He has a resurrection body and has put on immortality. He has spoken in this way, “I will give you the holy and sure mercies of David” (13:34). Again Isaiah 55:3 is quoted close but not exactly corresponding to the LXX. By Messiah’s resurrection, the Davidic Covenant is assured (see the commentary on the Life of David Ct – The LORD’s Covenant with David).
Therefore, ADONAI also says in another psalm, “You will not permit Your Holy One to see decay.” And again, Psalm 16:10 is quoted verbatim from the LXX.293 Then we have the application of that Psalm. For after David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he went to sleep and was laid with his fathers and saw decay. So the application of Psalm 16:10 cannot possibly be to King David because he died and saw decay. But it is applicable to the One whom God raised up did not see decay – Yeshua Messiah (13:35-37).
Sound bite number five: Anyone may be forgiven for their sins and justified (found not guilty) before God through faith Yeshua Messiah’s death, burial and resurrection. Therefore, let it be known to you, brothers, that through this One that was killed and raised from the dead, is proclaimed to you the removal of sins, including all those from which you could not be justified (Greek: dikaiountai, meaning the act of God whereby, negatively, He forgives our sins, and, positively, He declares us righteous by transferring all the obedience and righteousness of Messiah to us by faith), by the Torah of Moses. According to the Oral Law (see the commentary on The Life of Christ Ei – The Oral Law), there are thirty-six transgressions for which the Torah specifies the punishment as being karet,” that is, being cut off from Isra’el (K’ritot 1:1). For these the Torah provides no sacrifice for atonement to restore fellowship.294 Through this One everyone who keeps trusting is made righteous. Be careful, then, so that what is said in the Prophets may not come upon you (see the commentary on The Life of Christ Mt – The Destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple on Tisha B’Av in 70 AD):295
“Look, you scoffers,
be amazed and vanish away.
For I am doing a work in your days –
a work you will never believe,
even if someone tells it to you in detail” (13:38-41 LXX)
This is a reference to the Babylonian invasion of 586 BC, but the application is to the 70 AD judgment. The one point of similarity is that they were both confronted with scoffers). Luke quotes the TaNaKh almost always in a form either corresponding to the LXX or close to it, and not according to the Hebrew Masoretic Text. Here Habakkuk 1:5 is quoted close but not exactly corresponding to the LXX.296
The results: The initial effect of Paul’s sermon was to arouse interest, not opposition. He did not alienate his Jewish hearers by denouncing them as opposing God or following a man-made religion, as some zealous but mistaken Christian evangelists do today. As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging them to speak these things to them again at the next Shabbat. This request was probably made by the elders of the synagogue, giving them a week to investigate any false claims. When the synagogue meeting broke up, many of the Jewish people and Gentile proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who were speaking with them and trying to persuade them to continue in the grace of God (13:42-43). They didn’t want to wait because they had already become believers as a result of Paul’s message that Shabbat.
The following Shabbat, almost the entire city, both Jews and Gentiles, came together to hear the word of the Lord. They came to hear the Word of God and the synagogue was overflowing with people standing outside. Since the town’s citizens had the opportunity to hear the Torah read every Shabbat, they were presumably drawn to Paul’s preaching of the Word in regard to Jesus.297 The teaching of the Torah, requiring circumcision, attracted only a few Gentiles, but the preaching of grace, attracted a multitude of Gentiles who had heard Paul’s sermon the previous Shabbat and understood that the salvation he proclaimed in Messiah included them! The word had spread like wildfire through the Gentile community and they were there in masse. But when the unbelieving Jewish leaders saw the Gentile crowd, they were filled with zealousness (Greek: zelos), as the Great Sanhedrin had been previously (5:17). Their zealousness was over the presence of all those Gentiles. It was one thing to proclaim the coming Messiah to the Jews. It was quite another to maintain that the Messiah God accepted the Gentiles on an equal basis. To them this was a little short of blasphemy,298 and they tried to contradict Paul’s interpretation of Scripture by continually reviling him. Both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said: It was necessary for the word of God to be spoken to you first (Romans 1:16). Since you reject it and judge yourselves unfit for eternal life – behold, we are turning to the Gentiles (13:44-46). This would turn out to be the pattern of evangelism in the book of Acts.299
For so the Lord has commanded us,
“I have placed you as a light to the [Gentile] nations,
so that you may bring salvation to the end of the earth” (13:47 LXX).
Luke quotes the TaNaKh almost always in a form either corresponding to the LXX or close to it, and not according to the Hebrew Masoretic Text. Here Isaiah 49:6 (and separately citing Amos 9:11-12) is quoted close but not exactly corresponding to the LXX.300 It is essentially the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) given to the Jewish people. The phrase light for the Gentiles recalls Isaiah 60:1-3 CJB: Arise, shine, for Your light has come, and the glory of Adonai has risen upon You . . . and Goyim (Gentiles) will walk in Your light. Yeshua is the light of the world (John 8:12).
When the Gentiles heard this, they were thrilled and glorified the word of the Lord; and as many as had been [predestined] for eternal life believed (13:48). Here we have a clear picture of the sovereignty and the doctrine of predestination. It was those who ADONAI predestined for eternal life that believed. While it is true that believers are chosen in Christ before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), and that God foreknew, predestined, and called the elect (Romans 8:29; Jude 1), it is also true that the Bible says that God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). I believe this is an antinomy, or two contradictory statements that are both true. For example the Trinity is an antinomy. God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4) and is reflected in three Persons. We don’t have to choose. I also believe we don’t have to choose on this issue. The Bible teaches both, believers have been predestined for eternal life; and we have a choice in this life, whoever believes in Him shall not perish. But those who go to hell do so because they judge themselves unfit for eternal life (13:46). It doesn’t make sense to our finite minds, but the Lord will explain it all to us when we get to heaven.
Evangelism always follows true salvation, as those who are saved naturally desire to share their faith. The converts in Pisidian Antioch were no different. Through their enthusiastic testimony, the word of the Lord spread throughout the whole region. The strategic position of Pisidian Antioch would help to cause the spread of the gospel in spite of opposition.
Unable to win the debate against Paul and Barnabas, the Jewish leaders invited some of the wealthy Gentile women of high standing (women could be quite wealthy in the Roman world, and many were attracted to Judaism) who attended the synagogue with their husbands, the leading men of the city.301 Evidently they had sufficient social standing to force the departure of Paul and Barnabas. They stirred up persecution against the two missionaries and they drove them out of their district. Paul refers to this persecution in Second Timothy 3:11; possibly he and Barnabas were beaten with rods or whips (Second Corinthians 11:24-25a). In any event, Paul and Barnabas followed the advice given by Jesus for dealing with an unreceptive city: If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town, as a testimony against them, and go where their ministry would be more fruitful (Mattityahu 10:14; Mark 6:11; Luke 9:5). In other words, they were not only to leave such a town or home, but such was to be considered and treated as a pagan. The emphasis here is on those who were not worthy. The procedure was that a sandal was taken off and the dust was shaken off as a traditional Jewish symbol of separation and warning of judgment.302 As a result, they shook the dust off their feet against them, and they went on to Iconium (13:49-51).
And the new Jewish and Gentile believers in the city of Pisidian Antioch were continually filled with joy and the Ruach ha-Kodesh (13:52). Believers are immersed with the Holy Spirit once at the moment of salvation (see the commentary on The Life of Christ Bw –What God Does For Us at the Moment of Faith), but we are leaky vessels and we need to be continually filled. As Paul and Barnabas started out for Iconium (about eight miles away), they left behind them two completely different groups of people: the rejecting, prejudiced, hate-filled Jews; and the joyous, Spirit-filled believers.
These verses paint a stark picture of the choice facing every person on the earth. People either have faith/trust/belief in Yeshua Messiah and are saved for all eternity . . . or they reject Him and are lost for all eternity. As He Himself put it: Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters (Matthew 12:30). He left us not third alternative.303
ADONAI, help me to always speak what is consistent with being clear minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love and in patience. May I be sanctified in demeanor – not backbiting or enslaved by wine, teaching what is good (Titus 2:1-3). My desire is to be someone others can trust – in the same measure that I trust in You.304