In our Last essay we studied Acts 12:1-25. Therefore in this one we are studying Acts 13:1-12. This is the beginning of another major section of the book. Back in chapter one, verse eight, Luke recorded a prophecy by Jesus that the believers would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. We have seen the fulfillment of the first two parts of that prophecy in chapters 8-12. And now Luke begins to record the fulfillment of the third part. This section of the book is by far the longest. It runs from here through the end of the final chapter, that is, 13:1-28:31. Although Luke gave attention to the ministries of Philip and Saul in chapters 8-12, the main focus was on Peter. But now, beginning here at 13:1, the main focus shifts to Paul.
In vcrse one we see the cosmopolitan nature of the city of Antioch in the church’s leadership. Counting Barnabas and Saul there were five “prophets and teachers” giving leadership to the Antiochene church. The fact that they had five prophets and teachers indicates that church had grown quite large. It was a first-century equivalent of one of today’s mega churches.
Saul, of course, was a Pharisee from the city of Tarsus. Barnabas was a Levite from the island of Cypress (4:36). Simeon apparently was a black African, since his nickname was Niger, which means “black.” Lucius of Cyrene obviously came from North Africa, where Cyrene is located. Manaen was associated in some way with Herod the Tetrarch.
This particular Herod was Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great. He ruled his tetrarchy from 4 BC to AD 39. The Greek word used to describe Manaen’s relationship to Antipas had more than one usage. The NRSV translators interpreted it according to a very general usage that simply meant Manaem was a member of Herod’s court. The NIV translators, on the other hand, interpreted it to mean that Manaen had been “brought up” with Herod, because the word was sometimes used to describe boys the same age as royal princes who were raised with them at court. Apart from Barnabas and Saul we know nothing more about these leaders.
Now then, in verses two Luke tells us that while the leaders (probably with others in the church) were “worshipping the Lord and fasting,” the Holy Spirit said (likely through a prophet) “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. Then after fasting and praying, they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” There are several things to take note of in these opening verses.
First, we see that the Holy Spirit spoke while they were worshipping and fasting. Then after he spoke, the church’s response was to fast and pray. Notice that fasting was not an end in itself. It was used to enhance and strengthen worship and prayer.
Second, we see that the call was not specific. It was a call to the work that God wanted them to do. In other words, it seems that the call clearly was to what we would call missionary service, but the following account will show that the Lord did not lay out an exact itinerary that Barnabas and Saul were to follow.
Third, it is important to note that God called the two most capable leaders among the five to the task. That isn’t to say that the others couldn’t have done a good job. But God wants the best for the toughest work; and I believe that was especially true when the work of winning the world to Christ was just beginning.
Finally fourth, we see that although God did the calling, the church did the commissioning. We must not think of the laying on of hands by the church as an ordination to the office of apostle. God already had ordained them to that office. Rather it was the first church commissioning of missionaries. By the laying on of hands the church was identifying with the ministries of Barnabas and Saul. They were affirming God’s call; they were committing themselves to pray for the missionaries; and they were committing themselves to support the missionaries in whatever ways they could.
In verses 4-7, the first thing Luke reminds us of is that the Holy Spirit is in charge. The church may have commissioned Barnabas and Saul for their missionary ministry, but it was the Holy Spirit who sent them out (v. 4). I like Adam Clarke’s comment on their being sent by the Holy Spirit. He writes, quote, “By his influence, authority, and his continued direction. Without the first, they were not qualified to go; without the second, they had no authority to go; and without the third, they could not know where to go.”
The two missionaries decided to go first to Cyprus, probably because it was where Barnabas was raised (4:36). So they went to the seaport of Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. By the way, nearly every Bible has a set of maps at the back, and they normally have a map that shows Paul’s three missionary journeys. I suggest you consult your map of Paul’s missionary journeys as we work our way through Luke’s accounts of them. Otherwise it will be difficult to follow
Barnabas and Saul arrived at Salamis on the eastern side of the island and began their ministry there by preaching in the synagogues of the city. We also learn in verse five that they had John to assist them. This was John Mark, later the author of the Gospel of Mark, whom they had brought with them from Jerusalem when they returned to Antioch at the end of chapter 12 (12:25). Colossians 4:10 tells us that John Mark was a cousin of Barnabas, which explains why Barnabas took such an interest in him. John Mark’s role on the team was that of an “attendant.” The NRSV translates the Greek word as a verb, “to assist them.” The NIV translates it to mean that he was “their helper.” It is unclear what his primary duties might have been. He simply could have been a cook and dishwasher, or he could have helped instruct converts, or both. What we know with certainty is that he was not a missionary, but a general helper.
Though no details are given, the missionaries preached their way westward across the entire island to the city of Paphos, which was located on the western coast and was the provincial capitol. There they met two important men. The first was Sergius Paulus, the Roman proconsul, and the second was his court magician, Elymas, also known as Bar-Jesus (son of salvation). I suspect that the latter was what we today might call a “stage name.” That is to say, he probably called himself “son of salvation” in order to inflate his importance. Luke describes the magician as a “false prophet.” The missionaries apparently got the opportunity to share the Gospel with Sergius Paulus, because he had heard about them and was curious to hear their message (v. 7).
In verses 8-12 we get a more complete picture of Elymas. We already have learned that he was a magician and a false prophet (v. 6). Now we learn that he was shrewd in the sense that he wasn’t about to lose the place of influence he had worked so hard to gain. Therefore he opposed Barnabas and Saul and tried to turn Sergius Paulus away from the gospel they were preaching (v. 8). But Saul wasn’t going to put up with that, and he strongly confronted Elymas. We learn from Saul’s rebuke in verses 9-10 that Elymas was an immoral man in addition to the other characteristics given. Furthermore, Saul announced that Elymas would be blinded, which he was (v. 11).
Notice in verse nine that Luke for the first time uses Saul’s Greek name, Paul. And Luke never calls him Saul again. It seems to me that this was significant in Luke’s mind. Up to this point Saul’s ministry was primarily a local ministry in various cities: Damascus, Jerusalem, Tarsus, and Syrian Antioch. But now Saul, or Paul, is taking the gospel primarily to Gentiles throughout the Roman world, a change that Luke marks with this change from the Hebrew to the Greek form of the name. In addition, up to this point Saul has been subordinate to Barnabas. But during this first missionary journey, Paul emerges as the leader of the team. And Luke begins to speak of the missionaries as Paul and Barnabas instead of Barnabas and Saul.
In verse 12 we see that Sergius Paulus believed the gospel and was saved. Paul had faced down an evil opponent, and God backed him up with the power of the Holy Spirit.