The Return to and Stay at Antioch: Part 2 of 2
by John Lowe
Paul and Barnabas had themselves experienced persecution on this trip in almost every city where they witnessed. They reminded the Christians that this was not just the lot of missionaries but could be expected of all who carry Christ’s name. The theme is one Paul often sounded in his epistles—we must be willing to suffer with Christ if we expect to share in His glory (see Romans 8:17; 2 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Timothy 2:12); the path to resurrection is by way of the cross. Paul went back to exhort them to “continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” The meaning of that declaration is not that through tribulations individual men enter into the Kingdom of God. It is rather that we can expect to encounter trouble and tribulation as we live the Christian life, and it is our faith that will overcome every obstacle in our path. It is an encouragement to every child of God that we shall not be lost and perish in it. We must never forget that the Kingdom of God was established by the Lord Christ Himself.
The final ministry of the two apostles was to organize and establish leadership in the new congregations. For these early churches, there was no professional clergy to assume the leadership. Consequently, the pattern of the Jewish synagogues seems to have been followed by appointing a group of lay elders to shepherd the flock. They were probably Jews who came out of the synagogues where they had been steeped in the Scriptures. Thus elders from the synagogues became elders in the churches. There is some question in this particular instance about who appointed the elders—the apostles or congregation (v. 23). This seems to be an exception to the more common practice of the congregation appointing its leadership (see Acts 6:1-6). At this time the New Testament was not yet written to give explicit instructions concerning the qualifications of elders. The apostles knew what these qualifications were, however, and they were able to single out the men who met the scriptural requirements. The qualifications for elders are in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Perhaps in these early congregations the wisdom of the apostles was needed in establishing solid leadership over those so recently converted from paganism. Perhaps even in these instances, the selections of the apostles were confirmed by a vote of the congregations. If you compare Titus 1:7-9, you will see that “elder” and “bishop” (overseer) refer to the same office, and both are equivalent to “pastor.”
The word translated “ordained” means “to elect by a show of hands.” It is possible that Paul chose the men and the congregation voted its approval, or that the people selected them by vote and Paul ordained them (see Acts 6:1-6).
24 And after they had passed throughout Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia.
25 And when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down into Attalia:
Verses 24-25 complete the mission of Paul and Barnabas, giving the final leg of the return trip. Again they traversed the rugged mountain paths of Pisidia into the lowlands of Pamphylia and arrived at Perga where they had started: “Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem. But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia. . .” (Acts 13:13-14a). No mention was made earlier of any witness in Perga, but now they devoted some time to preaching the Gospel there. And then they descended to Attalia, the main port town of that region. From there they took a ship and sailed to Seleucia, the port of Antioch in Syria.
26 And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled.
27 And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.
28 And there they abode long time with the disciples.
The first missionary journey was completed with the return of the apostles to Syrian Antioch. They had been gone at least a year, maybe two, and it must have been exciting for them and the church when they arrived back home. Some commentators believe the two apostles had been gone some four or five years, and since the missionary journey would probably occupy less than two years, the rest of the time would be the period of their stay at Antioch. Paul and Barnabas had traversed more than 700 miles by land and 500 miles by sea. But more than that, their ministry succeeded in demolishing the wall between Jews and Gentiles (see Ephesians 2:14-16). They had by the grace of God, fulfilled the work God had given them to do; and they joyfully reported to the church family, “all that God had done with them,” that is, by and for them. Verse 26 forms a connection with Acts 13:2: “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” It was the Antioch church that had commissioned the apostles, committing them to the Lord by prayer, and fasting and identifying with their mission (“work”) by the laying on of hands. The work was now complete, and the two missionaries gave their report to the sponsoring congregation. They revealed that God had now definitely opened the door of the Gospel to Gentiles. When the Gospel started out, the churches were comprised entirely of Hebrews. Then they became partially Gentile. And now the Gospel is definitely going to the Gentiles. Now the churches in Asia Minor are comprised entirely of Gentiles. Although there also may have been some Jews in these churches, it seems that in most places the Jews rejected the Gospel and the Gentiles received it.
Verse 27b marks a transition. The subject of opening “the door of faith to the Gentiles” would be the main topic of the Jerusalem Conference in the next chapter. This clause is very important for several reasons:
1. It shows that the gospel had gone to the Gentiles.
2. It was a “by faith” message and not by works of the Law.
3. God did it—He is the One who opened the door.
4. It summarizes the primary significance of the mission in chapters 13-14.
This would perhaps be the first “missionary conference” in church history, and what a conference it must have been.
Evidentially the report of this mission did not immediately reach Jerusalem, and Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch for “a long time” (v.28). Word would eventually spread to Jerusalem and provoke the major debate that is the subject of chapter 15.
1 The good tidings of the redemption of the world through Jesus Christ; the gospel.